Comhairle sets 'most difficult' budget

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Concerns raised by the public were reflected in a toned-down list of service cuts agreed by councillors as part of the budget for 2013/14 today (Thursday).

Nearly £5million of savings had to be found for the next two years but a balanced budget has now been set.

Itinerant teaching provision will remain in island schools to some degree with £260,000 committed with services allocated ‘based on educational need’.

Smaller savings are to be made through the introduction of an Asymmetric Week and cuts initially proposed to Home Care will also be reduced.

Flights between Barra and Benbecula will be stopped, however, and services between Stornoway and Benbecula will be reduced to three days a week unless NHS Western Isles will commit to paying cost price for flights.

Cuts to the charity Penumbra were minimised as was support for the Local Area Coordinator post in Uist.

The proposal for a Shared Headship between Tolsta and Sgoil a’Bhac will proceed.

The plans put forward by Leader Angus Campbell were challenged in two amendments; one by the SNP Group who presented an alternative budget and a further amendment by Cllr DJ Macrae calling for a cut of just £2,000 to Penumbra over two years.

The SNP’s amendment was defeated 24 votes to six, but was mistakenly supported by Labour councillor DJ Macrae. Mr Macrae’s amendment was defeated 23 votes to seven.

The alternative budget proposal put forward by the SNP’s Cllr Rae Mackenzie included the retention of Itinerant teaching in full as well as the continuation of funding for air services, Community Transport, Additional Support Needs and more.

This would be offset by the reduction in staffing in some Comhairle departments and service redesign.

There would be reductions to Business Support; Arts Development; Tourism and Creative Industries – budget choices rejected by councillors previously.

They would also make savings by scrapping ward funding for one year and using some reserves. The plan called for work to begin on restructure and redesign of the Comhairle’s organisational structures from 2014.

The budget set by the Comhairle is for the next year as well as a provisional budget for next year.

It retains a Council Tax level at Band D of £1024 in the Western Isles, the lowest inScotland.

Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell said: “This budget has been the most difficult we have faced during my time as a councillor but with a lot of hard work and the support of our communities we have arrived at a balanced budget for 2013/14 that builds on our stable financial position. Provided we follow them through the proposals before us will also form a sound basis for the 2014/15 budget.”