Highland Council still on track to deliver its budget
Highland Council is “confident” that it can successfully set a budget despite the ongoing row over delays between Holyrood and Westminster.
The UK budget was to have been delivered in November but due to the General Election it was postponed until March 11 while the Scottish budget will be announced on February 6.
That leaves little time for the Scottish budget to be agreed and passed in Holyrood before local authorities come up against the deadline which falls on the same day at the UK budget announcement.
Highland Council’s budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: “There’s no doubt that the delay presents a challenge but we are in the same position as every other council in Scotland waiting for its settlement.
“We have been working on a number of budget scenarios, we are working hard and when we get the figure we are confident that we can set a budget.
“Council tax is an issue, we have to get that sorted by March 11 – we don’t want to leave people waiting for what will be coming.”
MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch Kate Forbes – who is also the minister for public finance and digital economy – described the situation as “astonishing”.
“That leaves less than a month for Highland Council, never mind the Scottish Government to respond and set a budget before the beginning of the tax year,” she said.
“Furthermore, it is the exact same date by which Highland Council have to legally set Council Tax. It shows the complete disregard the UK Government has for Scotland, and indeed for the Highlands.”
Scottish finance minister Derek Mackay claimed that the move to postpone the budget announcement by Chancellor Sajid Javid is “completely unacceptable.”
But a spokesman for the UK government hit back saying the situation was not as dire as claimed by the SNP.
He said: “The UK government has insisted throughout the row that it can provide Scottish ministers with enough information to set a budget at the time of their choosing.
“Nothing stops the Scottish Parliament from passing their budget before the UK budget. We are working with the Scottish Government as part of an agreed process to provide the information they need to prepare their budget.
"At the spending round, we announced that the Scottish government's block grant will increase by £1.2bn next year."
Mr Mackay has since come under enormous pressure himself from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) which called for an extra £1 billion of investment for “vital” services provided by councils “before it is too late”.
Cosla stated that national policy now accounts for 60 per cent of council budgets so any cuts applied can only come from the remaining 40 per cent –“meaning that cuts are amplified in services that are not protected.”
That won the support of Scottish labour's finance, jobs and fair work spokeswoman, Rhoda Grant, who accused the SNP of "turbo-charging" austerity.
She said: “It is absolutely vital that local government is fully equipped to deliver essential services to the community and able to protect schools, care for the elderly, libraries and sports facilities from government austerity.
“The SNP government has taken Tory austerity, turbo-charged it, and passed it on to Scotland’s councils.
“Across Scotland local authorities are struggling to deliver lifeline services and are being forced to make more and deeper cuts to services due to government austerity, leaving communities suffering.
“If the SNP government persists in creating new commitments for local authorities then it must listen to Cosla and ensure that local authorities receive the funding they need to meet the commitments. Any failure to do this only drives down funds for vital services."