BUDGET cuts of almost £1 million are starting to bite at High Life Highland but bosses remain hopeful for a “fairly stable” year.
The charity, which provides leisure and culture facilities on behalf of Highland Council, must find savings totalling £900,000 due to local authority cuts and wage increases, but chief executive Ian Murray has insisted passing the cost to customers will be a last resort.
When the council’s budget was finalised in February it was decided to cut the money given to High Life Highland by £112,000.
This, combined with additional costs such as wage and pension increases, higher VAT and a new apprentice levy, saw the gap soar to £900,000.
The leisure company has now cut management, library and business support jobs and one community language assistant, although some of these were already vacant.
The adult learning service was reduced and family membership price was increased by £1 to £30 per month. The single monthly membership has remained at £20.
But Mr Murray hopes the remaining money can be found through internal savings, donations and a boost in income through more people signing up and spending in their retail and food outlets.
“Our approach to addressing a reducing fee from the council is always firstly to see if we can increase income,” he said.
“In tandem with that we are constantly looking for internal efficiencies that can reduce our costs, and staff at all levels, across everything we do, have been extremely helpful in rooting out inefficiencies. Only after that do we consider reducing services to the public.
“This year, thanks to continued forward planning, the vast majority of the target is being found through income and efficiencies.
“While several central and management posts will be lost and there will be some small reductions to our adult learning, the year will be a fairly stable one, one which will allow us to plan for future years when we will have to be even more reliant on the support of our members and users.”
High Life Highland was set up in 2011 to run culture and leisure services on behalf of the council. Its gym facilities are among the cheapest in the country and users are now being asked for donations to help maintain services.
But Mr Murray acknowledged some job losses and service reduction has been necessary.
He said: “As presented and discussed at the council meeting in February, High Life Highland has reduced one head of service, along with a number of library and business support posts, generated by the non-replacement of vacant posts.
“In terms of adult learning, the team has reviewed the way in which they deliver services but they remain focused on literacy and numeracy support, aimed at some of the most disadvantaged individuals in our communities.
“In addition, we took a decision not to fill a vacant community language assistant post, reducing the number from three to two.”