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Highland Council leaders warn ignificant savings will need to be found in budget; Impact of Covid and Brexit creates 'long and very difficult task' for local authority

By Gavin Musgrove

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Highland Council leaders have warned significant savings will have to be found in the coming budget due to the pressure caused by the Covid pandemic and Brexit.

The administration has said it can start on its proposals now that it has the Scottish Government’s settlement proposals although has pointed out much uncertainty remains.

There has been a £2.5m increase in core funding from the Scottish Government for this coming financial year.

However, council bosses have warned the figure is not nearly enough to meet the on-going monetary pressures.

The exact impact of pay rises for public sector workers announced in the Scottish Government budget is not yet known but will add to the council's bill for 2021-22.

Other financial pressures include the on-going loss of income from Covid and other pressures on council services caused by the pandemic.

Councillor Alasdair Christie has issued budget warning.
Councillor Alasdair Christie has issued budget warning.

Highland Council depute leader Alasdair Christie said setting the budget early next month is just the start of a tough period for the local authority.

He said: “Despite the proposed government funding settlement, we will need to find considerable levels of savings to help offset increasing costs related to the impact of Covid, inflationary costs and pay increases which are set nationally...

"We are facing one of the hardest economic periods in recent history in the coming years, with the devastating impact of Covid and emerging consequences of Brexit on the Highlands.

"This is going to be a long and very difficult task and we need the support of our colleagues across the chamber and collaboration with our partners to achieve the best outcomes for the region.”

Highland Council is set to receive £506.3m in its funding settlement for 2021-22, compared with £493m for 2020-21.

The local authority is getting an extra £13.2m overall (including the £2.5m rise) from the Scottish Government this coming financial year with around £10.1m ring-fenced for the final phase of the roll-out of early years hours (£2.7m), health and social care (£3.2m) and a council tax freeze (£4.2m).

The budget and council tax will be set at the council's meeting at headquarters on March 4.

Related: Ross-shire veteran councillor quits as budget leader in shock move

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