Comhairle to set budget but alternatives proposed by SNP Group

Councillors will set the budget today.
Councillors will set the budget today.

Cutting school bus contracts, phasing out itinerant teachers and reducing staff numbers are just some of the ways the Comhairle plan to make crucial savings in 2014/15.

Members will meet this afternoon (Thursday) to set their budget for the year ahead at a special meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee followed by full council.

The budget will be challenged by the SNP Group who are putting forward an alternative budget which would retain the bus contracts to Laxdale School, retain provision of Itinerant teachers and not reduce Community Transport or Trade Union representation.

They are also proposing the introduction of the Living Wage and to keep street lights on until midnight in winter.

Council tax looks certain to remain frozen for the next year as this is a condition of the Comhairle’s acceptance of the financial settlement from the Scottish Government.

A wide range of savings were identified last year as part of the budget setting for 2013/14, with £5.48m of savings shortlisted following public consultation.

Many of those savings plans have already been implemented but in 2014/15 the remaining budget choices will be rolled out.

It is anticipated that £107,000 can be saved through a change in the School to Home Transport Policy with the removal of three bus contracts for Laxdale School.

There are also £288,000 of savings identified for the next year through changes to the school estate.

With the closure of Carloway, Shelibost and Shawbost S1/2 last year, there were projected savings from workforce reduction and these are still being realised, as well as further savings related to the closure of Eriskay School and the possible closure of North Uist schools with investment in a new facility.

Other large scale savings identified for the year ahead are £200,000 for the removal of itinerant teachers; Curriculum Redesign which includes more use of e-learning; introduction of a frozen meals service; relocation of Comhairle staff to Stornoway Library and reducing staff numbers by disestablishing roles; and removing union representation.

It is recommended that the council retain £3m due to financial risks and that any underspend in winter maintenance budgets is set aside for future severe winters.