The Scottish Government’s draft Local Government Financial Settlement for 2024/25 was published on 21 December 2023. Although the Comhairle’s funding increased, compared to last year’s initial Settlement, after taking account of the additional funding committed to the current year pay awards, there is a net decrease of around £1.5m.
On Tuesday 16 January the Comhairle’s Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer presented the proposed 2024/25 Budget Strategy to the Comhairle’s Budget and Strategy Board.
The proposed Strategy will again see the Comhairle avoid compulsory redundancies but it is once again inevitable that savings are required to balance the budget. These will be achieved, as far as possible, whilst maintaining service levels. As in recent years, the budget will again use some reserves and return on investments to cushion the impact of savings on service delivery. The planned use of reserves has been an important strand in the Budget Strategy for a number of years but reserves are now diminished to a level that this cannot be presumed in the future.
Cllr Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said:
“The work of Comhairle officers in presenting the basis for a balanced budget should be commended and is testament to the authority’s good financial management and measured decision-making. In 2024 the Comhairle will again make no employees redundant which is a real positive. While this is positive it is again frustrating that Member and officer time must be dedicated to finding yet more savings rather than working to improve the services that we deliver to the people of the Western Isles.
“In December the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Shona Robison, announced that this budget would prioritise the delivery of high-quality public services to the people of Scotland. Unfortunately, despite the removal of ring-fencing in some areas, this budget has left the Comhairle with effectively no money to support service development or improvement. For the people of the Western Isles public services are therefore unlikely to improve.
“In October I told the UK Islands’ Forum of the need for investment in the Western Isles to stem depopulation and improve the quality of life for individuals living in our communities. Over the coming months the Comhairle will engage with Scottish Government and again make the point that the only way to tackle the unique challenges faced by island communities is through real public service reform, capital investment and a longer-term, island-proofed financial strategy for Local Government in the Western Isles and throughout Scotland.”