Highland councillors today completed talks that will see around £40m worth of cuts to local services. The latest tranche of cuts come from the SNP Government, who have frozen local government grants and council tax for almost a decade.
Despite an increase in income for the Scottish Government this year, the cuts to local government mean less money for schools, charitable organisations and council services.
Speaking after the Highland Council budget was agreed, Highland Councillor and Lib Dem group leader Alasdair Christie said: “We have done our legal duty and set the budget for next year but we cannot claim a truly successful outcome for our residents.
“That is why we tried to protect children, vulnerable adults, the elderly, and disabled. It is a small achievement and residents will still feel the pain of these unnecessary budget cuts across services, it could have been so different.
“The Cabinet Secretary for Finance’s requirement that we accept his budget settlement offer as a package, not allowing us to consider aspects of the offer individually, has put us between a rock and a hard place.
“To do anything other than accept the settlement would have impacted greatly of the provision of social care for our most vulnerable residents and on the education of our children. As it is, staff and services will be reduced and our ability to respond in an emergency will be limited.
“Of Highland residents asked about raising council tax, 61% indicated they were willing to accept a 5% rise and highlighted the potential impact of cuts on the wider community as a concern but we cannot even consider their views without suffering significant sanctions which would more than cancel out any improvements to services.
“Mr Swinney believes that what we have been forced to do today will have ‘minimal impact’ on jobs or services. He needs to come and talk to people here in the Highlands.
“No-one can be truly proud of what we did today, but least of all the current SNP Government who despite having the tax levers to make a difference did not use them and in addition applied severe pressure on Councils by making any options we had totally unaffordable.
“The SNP Government have imposed their one size fits all agenda on the Highlands without consideration of the impact on Highland residents. Highland residents will remember this in the weeks to come.”