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Council's projected £100M shortfall could see reduced services, job losses and will be 'disastrous' for the local economy

By David G Scott

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The leader of Highland Council warned that a budget shortfall of around £100M over the next three years will be "disastrous for communities and our economy in the Highlands".

Highland Council has forecast a significant financial gap for the coming years, with a projected budget gap of £60-70 million for next year (2024/25).

Members have a legal obligation to set a balanced budget and proposals will be developed and presented to council for agreement at the end of February 2024.

There is still considerable uncertainty until the end of December around what the grant will be from the Scottish Government for 2024-25, and the funding to implement a Council Tax freeze.

Council leader Raymond Bremner is also councillor for Wick and East Caithness. Picture: DGS
Council leader Raymond Bremner is also councillor for Wick and East Caithness. Picture: DGS

Leader of the council, Wick and East Caithness councillor, Raymond Bremner said: “While we understand the cost of living crisis for our communities, local authorities are also facing incredible cost pressures in the shape of inflation, high rates of interest and the need to fund pay settlements.

“We anticipate we will have an unprecedented budget gap next year of around £60-70M and a shortfall of around £100M over the next three years has been forecast.

“Without adequate funding, we will have a choice of making service reductions or increasing income or a mixture of both. Service reductions would also mean job losses and that is something we are doing everything possible to avoid, as this would be disastrous for communities and our economy in the Highlands.”

Convener Bill Lobban added: “This council has managed through prudent financial management to build up a level of reserves which were used to balance our budget this year. However, that cannot continue, and we must find a sustainable way forward to ensure we can provide the badly needed services that Highland people deserve, including having control over our spending and the income we generate.”

Councillor Derek Louden chair of resources committee said: “Last year we set one of the lowest council tax rates in Scotland in recognition of the cost of living crisis in our communities.

“Council tax freezes have a long term negative impact on local authority budgets and effectively widen the budget gap in the coming years.

“We will continue to work with our COSLA colleagues, to get clarification of the Scottish Government’s plans and how the cost of any freeze would be funded, both for next year and mitigation of the impact on future years’ budgets.”

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