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Where the axe is proposed to fall in Highlands

By SPP Reporter

Councillors will thrash out the budget next Thursday at HQ
Councillors will thrash out the budget next Thursday at HQ

Where the axe will fall in Highland Council's budget which will go before members next Thursday:

Of the £29 million of cuts proposed by Highland Council, more than £8.4 million will come from the care and learning sector, which looks after things like education, social care and additional support needs. A total of 37 senior managers will also go to save £2.4 million.

But even after these cuts have been agreed and implemented, the local authority will still have a significant budget deficit to plug.

A report detailing the cuts and seen by the Strathy lists the likely consequences of some of the cuts and paints a bleak picture of the future of council services in the Highlands.

Among the other cuts and savings proposed are:

£594,000: Public toilets

Seven centres in Inverness, Nairn, Dingwall, Fort William, Wick, Thurso and Aviemore will close and a total of 44 of the council’s public

toilets or Highland Comfort Scheme toilets will go too.

The local authority will then negotiate with community groups or businesses to transfer those 44 sites.

At the 44 sites which will remain open, honesty boxes with a recommended contribution of 20p will be installed.

The changes are expected to provoke a negative response and impact on the tourism sector.

“Lack of public convenience facilities may have a negative impact on tourism and closure will not be popular,” the council report states. “Some people with health or disability needs plan their journeys around the availability of toilets for the disabled.”

 £230,000: Car parking charges

New car parking charges will be introduced in a number of places across Inverness , and also in Nairn, Dingwall, Wick and Thurso. Existing parking charges will be increased in Kenneth Street and Culduthel Road, while seasonal parking charges will be extended in Fort Augustus.

An adverse effect on the economies of Inverness and other Highland towns is expected but the local authority’s report states people will eventually just have to get used to it.

“Initially there may be a reduction in the number of vehicles parking and in places less well-served by public transport the footfall on high streets will dip,” it said.

“This is not expected to be a long-term situation in that car users will, in time, become less reluctant to pay.”

£297,000: Cut in commissioned services

A raft of third sector children’s services will see the amount of cash given them to the council cut by 10 per cent. A grant for adult deaf education will be withdrawn altogether while 21 other organisations face reductions including Crocus Child Bereavement, Action for Children, the National Autistic Society, Highland Children’s Forum and relationship counselling services.

£90,000: Building cleaning budget

A further 18 cleaning staff will lose their jobs as part of an additional cut to how council-operated buildings are cleaned. The local authority had already agreed to slice £580,000 from this in 2016-17 and has been forced to tack on an extra £90,000 in response to the increase in the budget shortfall.

The council’s report states lower-paid female workers will be hit the hardest but also speculates there could emerging issues with cleanliness and hygiene as a result of the huge reduction in the level of service.

£300,000: Street cleaning services

The equivalent of 15 full-time workers will be axed from the council’s cleaning services by 2018-19 and the ability of the local authority to keep streets clean will be severely tested.

£57,000: Cease funding to Blindcraft

The charity runs a full production factory in Ardconnel Street, Inverness, and employs 19 visually impaired and disabled people, as well as four able-bodied workers. The company designs, manufactures and sells beds, mattresses and chairs and was established over 140 years ago.

The council will cut its funding by £3000 in 2016-17 and cut it completely by 2017-18, forcing the charity to find an alternative funder or face closure.

£440,000: Cease funding of community health co-ordinators

Funding is currently provided to NHS Highland to employ workers in Merkinchto increase access and availability of healthy, affordable food.

The partnership was set up to increase the number of people in the Highlands eating a healthy diet and who are physically active.

The local authority’s report states: “This will significantly impact on work to support communities to deliver more social care services and facilitate community-led good practice.”

£325,000: Reduce funding to High Life Highland

Leisure centres and libraries will suffer as a result of 4.3 per cent cut in High Life Highland’s budget. The council expects a drop in customer numbers, membership and income because of the reduction in services, as well less people taking up adult learning courses or participating in youth work schemes. Opening times and prices of leisure centres and libraries will also be affected.

£20,000: Cut in criminal justice funding

Staffing levels for the alcohol and drug partnership will be reduced by 10 per cent, meaning it will take longer for offenders to complete community payback orders.

The possibility of prison sentences of less than 12 months being scrapped was recently mooted by the Scottish Government but would be unlikely to go ahead if there is not enough staff to deal with offenders working in the community.

£40,000: Cut to Women’s Aid funding

The funding helps run the refuges and provide support to women to live safely in Highland communities. The council expects the group will be able to handle the funding cut – as long as no other funders pull the same move as it has.

£81,000: Recycling centre opening hours

Recycling centres will either be reduced to operating five days a week – from Thursday to Monday – or have the amount of hours they are open cut as part of a savings plan.

A possible increase in fly-tipping, a reduction in the number of people recycling and the loss of income from commercial customers have all been identified as knock-on effects of the change.

£200,000: Closure of the Black Isle Education Centre

The special school provides outreach support and links with other services but will close and a new provision for Inverness and Ross-shire children will be drawn up.

£350,000: Removing all funding from social enterprises

It was mooted that all social enterprises should be self-sustaining by 2020, so the council is moving forward this process by four years. The report states this cut poses a reputational risk for the council and adds: “Some of the employees of these social enterprises will be disabled/hard to employ and removal of funding may affect their ability to retain all of the staff.”

£82,000: Homelessness support services

The number of hours of housing support services will be cut by five per cent. It is likely to have a knock-on effect for levels of poverty and deprivation, as well as the viability of existing housing support providers.

£300,000: Restructuring community services

The structure of the community services department will change, with the current eight heads of service reduced to four. How this change will impact will be disclosed in a report sent to the community services committee later this month.

£40,000: Waste awareness budget

Bin permits, leaflets, newsletters and advice of service changes will be slashed to save money. The council admits it will have a detrimental effect on recycling and other green initiatives and decrease its ability to promote positive behavioural change.

£35,000: Reduction in the grant given to VisitScotland

Tourism will be affected by a cut in the amount of money given to VisitScotland to showcase the Highlands. From £250,000 two years ago, the agency will be given just £115,000 in 2016-17.

£250,000: Energy savings

A campaign of heating and electricity reduction will be launched by the local authority to put a dent in its £8 million energy budget. A plan to ask council workers to wear jumpers and ban them from charging mobile phones and tablets was attacked last November after figures revealed gas costs had increase by almost £2 million in a year.

In order to meet its latest proposed savings, the council’s report states it must manage the continued risk of individuals changing heating settings themselves.

£440,000: Deprived area fund

The fund currently gives money to third sector providers to help take employment issues in the Highlands’ most deprived areas.

It will now be scrapped, leaving no funding specifically focused on improving deprived areas for 2016-17.

£915,000: Improved collection of council tax

The local authority says it will be playing hardball with council taxpayers who are not up-to-date with their payments. Reviews of single-person discounts, reassessing collection and bad debt provisions will result in an almost seven-figure saving.

The report states: “Risk arises from the wider impact of welfare reforms and an increase in the number of people struggling to manage their finances.”

£719,000: Ward discretionary budget

Fewer community projects will be supported and those already funded will see council contribution’s reduced.

£59,000: Eden Court

The council reports speculates that the Highlands’ best-known theatre and venue may have to revise staff numbers or increase charges for some programmes to offset a reduction in its funding from the local authority.

£71,000: Gaelic arts and culture

The council supports Gaelic arts and culture through contracts totalling £188,000 but this will cut be significantly over the next three years.

The funds will be reduced by 10 per cent a year until 2018-19.

£70,000: Music tuition

The council’s report is not clear on how it will generate an additional £70,000 from music tuition but it states a major review of the system will provide the saving, hinting that fees will be raised.

“There is a risk of negative perceptions, especially if music tuition is not seen to be protected,” says the local authority’s report.

£250,000: Employability services

A total of £50,000 of savings has already been agreed for 2016-17 by the council but the latest plan proposes adding a five-fold cut to its £1.5 million budget.

The council maintains the risks of this cut will be manageable and will not affect its long-term goals of getting more people into work across the Highlands and increasing opportunities for young people.

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