No more ‘salami slice’ cuts says Leader as Council sets its budget

Comhairle members have made the tough choices for the 2018/19 budget.
Comhairle members have made the tough choices for the 2018/19 budget.

Comhairle nan Eilean has announced that it has set its budget for 2018/19.

The process of finalising the budget strategy began last June when a budget Board, comprising Councillors from all Wards and Parties, was formed to oversee its implementation.

It was felt this would provide an opportunity for feedback from across the Islands’ communities.

Original budget projections were that savings of up to £20m could be required over the term of the Comhairle including £6.3m in 2018/19, but this estimate has been revised in light of an improved settlement from the Scottish Government.

Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Cllr Roddie Mackay, said: “The Comhairle faces challenging financial circumstances but thanks to prudent financial management over previous years we are not in as tight a situation as some others.

“It is not an easy task but the Comhairle is committed to continue to effectively manage our finances whilst delivering high quality services for our communities.

“Our budget sets out a different approach to address the underlying deficit facing the Comhairle.

“Rather than continuing to salami slice services we want to look at different ways of delivering them to try and secure as many of the same outcomes within the constraints of the resources available.”

The funding offer from the Scottish Government to councils requires that a Council Tax increase is no more than 3%.

Whilst sanction free the Scottish Government has indicated that not accepting the offer will lead to a less favourable settlement for councils.

The Comhairle has seen an 18% fall in funding over recent years, the second highest drop in Scotland and it is no longer sustainable to squeeze individual service budgets.

Instead the Budget Board recommended that the Comhairle agree a programme of service redesign that will, over the term, realise the necessary savings.

The Comhairle has already agreed to seek 1% efficiency savings from across the Comhairle in each of the next five years and this, together with loan charge savings of £1.2m, reduces the deficit to £4.4m.

The announcement of £1.2m of additional funding last week is welcome and though some £0.2m of this will be needed for pay awards it brings the projected deficit to £3.4m - within the balances of £3.8m the Comhairle has earmarked for the budget.

At its Budget meeting, the Comhairle approved the order in which services will be reviewed and the year the reviews will begin.

It is anticipated that service redesign will produce £2m of savings for 2018/19 which will strengthen the Comhairle’s position for future years.

The process of redesign will include consultation on how the service outcomes can most appropriately be delivered.

The following recommendations have been agreed:

To accept the settlement offer from the Scottish Government

To approve the draft budgets, fees and charges for 2018/19

To seek a delegated budget for the Integration Joint Board at the same level as in 2017/18

To agree a 3% increase in Council Tax

To agree a programme of service redesign from 2018 to 2021.