THE administration at Highland Council has performed a dramatic u-turn after proposing to cut £1.2 million of funding from NHS Highland for adult social care.
The local authority has now announced it will provide £1.174 million from its own reserves to plug the gap after initially identifying the saving in its draft budget.
It comes after NHS Highland chairman David Alston, who is also a councillor for the Black Isle, hit out at the proposal, describing the move as “disappointing.”
When the plan emerged last week, Mr Alston said it was “reasonable” to expect the council to honour previous years’ agreements and provide the same amount of funding as before.
“The reality is that shortfall in our allocation is not simply a £1.2 million gap,” he said. “What will not be obvious to the public is that this represents a real terms reduction of around £7 million because the council’s allocation to NHS Highland fails to address the increasing cost pressures associated with paying the living wage to all care workers, inflation, salaries, and increasing demand.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson said the u-turn was the right decision and made best use of public money. “Since making our budget proposals we have again met with our partners at NHS Highland, to discuss the funding for adult social care,” she said. “The council and NHS Highland have agreed to work together on the vital job of building services in our communities to help prevent older people being admitted to hospital and then finding themselves unable to get back home. If we succeed at this task we will free up far more money to re-invest in services.
“Recognising the importance we place on our commitment to preventative spend, we will fund this adjustment to our proposed budget on a one-off basis from the council’s reserves.”
This comes just a week after councillors were warned against spending any more of the reserves, which are at a “historic low” of just £10.5 million. At the resources committee last Wednesday, finance director Derek Yule warned the council against using the fund to plug funding gaps and advised members to consider putting money back in to the pot, instead of removing it.
The budget will be finalised at a special meeting on Thursday.