Published: 08/02/2018 08:00 - Updated: 07/02/2018 17:12

Highland Council delays decision on £55m capital cuts

Written byEmma Crichton

 

Decisions on capital budget are now not due to be taken until early March
Decisions on capital budget are now not due to be taken until early March
 

 

Swingeing cuts to Highland Council’s capital budget for schools, roads and leisure centres have been pushed back.

Councillors have been battling to halve the capital plan from £110 million to £55 million and we were due to announce which projects are to be scrapped today but have not been able to agree a final list.

Budget leader Alister Mackinnon has confirmed that the Independent-led administration will not be putting forward proposals until March.

The current capital plan includes new schools and major refurbishment to existing ones, as well as multi-million pound new sports facilities, flood prevention work and road and bridge upgrades totalling £110 million but councillors were warned last year that the list must be halved to make it affordable due to shrinking budgets.

A scaled-back plan was to be announced today and confirmed at next Thursday’s budget meeting but this has been delayed until March 8.

It is thought senior councillors will use the time to lobby the Scottish Government for more money.

Councillor Mackinnon said: "At the budget meeting next week we will set a final figure for the capital plan but in terms of prioritising projects, that will not happen until March.

"We need a five-year plan that is affordable and on that basis we will be asking council to agree a more realistic capital spend over the coming years. It is our priority to protect frontline services, our staff and road maintenance and in order to do that we must cut our cloth accordingly."

"We will do everything we can to look at other sources of funding and make a specific case for the Highlands."

The capital programme has caused friction among councillors as they battle to get the green light for projects in their own ward but leaders have said in cash-strapped times schools must be prioritised over leisure facilities.

A veteran councillor dramatically quit the administration in December in a row over a facility in his ward.

Jim McGillivray, who represents East Sutherland and Edderton, turned his back on the Indepedent-Lib Dem-Labour coalition after 10 years in the Independent group, in protest to a suggestion that Dornoch Sport Centre may be abandoned after a 25-year wait.

Council leader Margaret Davidson confirmed roads and schools will be prioritised.

She said: "Our revised capital plan will propose continued investment enabling us to do some very important projects over the next five years, including new school buildings and phase two of the West Link and other road improvements. However, it is imperative that we get our capital plan into an affordable place in the light of the funding available to us.

"Highland is a region with unique issues and pressures which need to be taken into account in the level of funding we receive. Investment in our infrastructure is also of vital importance to a thriving economy. We will be continuing to lobby the Scottish Government to make this point and some of our Highland MSPs have been very supportive in this respect."

Cuts to the revenue budget, for day to day services, totalling £18 million are expected to be announced today. Proposals mooted so far include cutting school teachers, reducing rubbish bin collections to every three weeks, closing play parks and upping the controversial £30 garden waste charge, introduced last year, to £35.

It is hoped the cuts will not be as harsh as initially feared as the Scottish Government has given the council £7 million more than initially thought, following a last minute deal between the SNP and the Greens, leaving a budget hole of £18 million instead of £25 million.

Senior councillors have already U-turned on a proposal to cut the number of pupil support assistants and additional support needs teachers, following public backlash.

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