THE best chance of protecting the valued countryside ranger service is by transferring it to High Life Highland (HLH), north councillors have been told.
The service, one of the largest in Scotland, has seen the full time equivalent work force cut from 22 to 10.5 due to recent budget cuts, and this week councillors agreed to move the service under the control of its arms-length leisure and culture organisation.
Concerns had been raised about the future of rangers under HLH after two staff lost their jobs as part of February’s cuts, although this was less than originally proposed.
At the first meeting of the council’s places committee today, SNP group leader Maxine Smith, who led the fight to protect rangers earlier this year, questioned if the service will be lost under HLH, which faces its own budget pressures.
"The rangers service has been reduced significantly in council budget cuts in the last few years, what protection do we have for rangers under High Life?
"Will it be protected going forward and how will decisions be made? Will it still be here in five years?"
But councillors unanimously agreed the move, after reassurances from environment manager Nicole Wallace, that the service will have a better future under the new system, as it can merge with other activities offered by HLH
"We have gone from 22 rangers to 10.5 and there are gaps in where the service is provided now," she said.
"This is an opportunity to cover the patch differently now.
"This is our best bet to make sure the service is protected in future. High Life Highland will be subject to a service delivery contract."
Staff and services will be transferred by September and Ms Wallace said rangers themselves are happy with the move.
"We have had significant consultation with the rangers," she said.
"A meeting between them and High Life Highland ended with broad support for transferring.
"HLH sees an opportunity to merge the services with its outdoor activities and grow the ranger service in the future."