Council approves £110million budget - read Leader’s speech

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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar this afternoon (Thursday) approved their budget for 2014/15.

Leader Angus Campbell proposed the £110million budget to councillors at a meeting of the full council which gained the majority of support from members.

The budget includes a change to the original plans and will retain bus services to Laxdale School until June and then from August a 57 seat coach will provide transport to and from the school for some surrounding communities.

The council also changed their position regarding Trade Union representation and agreed to fund part time representation.

An amendment was put forward by Stornoway councillor Gordon Murray, seconded by Cllr Rae Mackenzie, which would have retained provision of itinerant teachers in primary schools, not reduced the budget for community transport, and retained full time union representation using balances, however this was defeated in a vote of 19 to seven.

The full speech of Leader Angus Campbell in presenting the budget can be read below:

“Today’s budget, the second of this term of the Comhairle, sets out how we propose to allocate our 2014/15 revenue budget of £110m for the benefit of our Islands.

This coming year is the final one of the current three year settlement and last February we took advantage of the certainty that this provided to look at the savings we needed to find across a two year period.

Between November 2012 and February 2013 we undertook two full rounds of consultation throughout the Islands to understand the priorities of our communities and the feedback we got helped us in deciding on the choices we had to make when we set the budget last Februar

The settlement offer from the Scottish Government requires commitments on our part including continuing the Council Tax freeze (for the seventh successive year) and maintaining teacher pupil ratios. As we can achieve these and since the consequence of not signing up would be a significant reduction in funding, I am recommending that we accept the offer which will mean that we will continue to have the lowest Council Tax in Scotland at £1,024 for a Band D property.

Despite the improving economy, austerity within the public sector is set to continue and our attention must therefore turn to the period beyond March 2015.

The settlement for 2015/16 is expected in the coming weeks and our budget papers show further savings of £9m could be needed over the following three years. Over and above this, long term projections show that our ageing population could increase the costs of elderly care by £2.6m over the next decade.

We will need to take the same strategic approach as we did for the current budget and we will start on this work immediately with a Report coming to our next series of meetings in April. It will also be important that there is cooperation of all agencies to make a success of Health and Social Care Integration so we can provide the best possible social care services as efficiently as possible.

We agreed our Capital Programme for 2013-18 last March and our total spend over the next five years will be at least £71m. Key works in the coming year will be road, pavement and bridge improvements throughout the Western Isles, including new sections of double track road at Stockinish in Harris and Carinish in Uist, development of Lews Castle and Museum nan Eilean, coast protection work at Balivanich, new care and respite facilities to replace Ardseileach, the harbour development at Ardveenish in Barra, improvements to receiving schools and the new North Uist primary school.

As a council we continue to have a high profile at a national level. The Our Islands Our Future Campaign has been well received and we are continuing to make good progress with Governments at a Scottish and UK level with a set of proposals due from both Governments by this summer following extensive discussions initiated by the Comhairle and our colleagues in Shetland and Orkney.

We have also lobbied hard on the Bedroom Tax I am very pleased to say that the additional funding means that we are in a position to relax the constraints on Discretionary Housing Payments for next year and thereby ease the pressure on some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The Inter Islands Business Development Scheme has operated for almost six years and has provided valuable support to a range of local businesses and so I am pleased to be recommending that we continue to support this initiative until RET is introduced on the Sounds of Harris and Barra routes.

I am also pleased to see an increase in demand for investment in the Fishing Sector and whilst the additional £100k we will be agreeing to invest tonight will help we will have to further consider how we can support the modernisation of the fishing fleet.

The hard work we put in last year has enabled us to manage a fourth successive year with a significant reduction in funding and rising inflation. However we are still managing to implement developments across our islands and we continue to provide high quality services. I would also stress that the Comhairle maintains a policy of no compulsory redundancies wherever possible. Over the past years we have protected jobs – which we recognise as vital for local businesses, the local economy and families within our communities. We are continuing that policy and I make no apologies for that. Furthermore, we are continuing to seek the implementation of a living wage as a minimum for all Comhairle employees. There has been a reduction in the number of people employed by the Comhairle over recent years but that is inevitable as service design changes. However we have not had to use redundancies as a means of managing the budget. Again, I am determined that we will maintain that position as far as possible given the importance of jobs within the economy and within our communities.

The budget I am recommending for the coming year leaves us placed to serve our communities as well as can be expected given the challenges that lie ahead.”