Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has set its budget for 2022/23.
The Comhairle agreed a Council Tax increase of 3%, or 69p per week for a Band D taxpayer.
An amendment to freeze Council Tax was defeated by 18 votes to 12.
Leader Roddie Mackay said that the increase would allow the Comhairle to protect services and help the most vulnerable in the community. Commenting on the amendment proposed by Cllr Gordon Murray to freeze Council Tax, Cllr Mackay stated: “The proposal to freeze Council Tax will severely restrict the Council’s ability to help those hardest pressed and most in need and the amendment actually will do more harm than good to the very people it suggests it’s helping. It is not doing the more vulnerable any service at all by not raising Council Tax, , for which full Council Tax Reduction is available to those unable to pay.. The additional £150 for those in Bands A - D will assist further. But let us be in no doubt: it is by this Council retaining some flexibility to do good with what little uncommitted monies we have which makes all the difference.”
He added: “In the face of the evidence placed before us today I cannot see how any right thinking member, with the good of our community at heart and a desire to be able as a council to help those financially challenged and most hard pressed across our islands, can do anything other than vote for a 3% council tax uplift.
“To do otherwise is to undermine our ability to help those who most need it, and the ill thought out amendment proposed by Cllr Gordon Murray and seconded by Cllr Rae Mackenzie disadvantages the very people it suggests it helps. It simply doesn’t and if Mr Murray does not have the good grace to see that I would certainly hope all right thinking members, including others in his own group, do see and understand what is best for the people we represent and do the right thing.”
The Comhairle received a one year settlement for the year from the Scottish Government with a net reduction of £0.2m leading to a deficit in the draft budget of £0.541m. The deficit will be covered by a transfer from balances.
It was agreed to pass £1.759m of new monies to Health and Social Care and £0.849m to fund Education commitments.
Councillors were warned of the continuing financial risks the Comhairle faces including rising inflation, uncertainties over pay awards and COVID continuing to affect revenues, most notably in sports facilities.
The Comhairle’s revenue funding has been reduced by 0.58% in real terms from last year, the third largest decrease in Scotland.
Cllr Mackay said: “I am able to present to you today a balanced Budget. While I am delighted to say that, it has been a challenge again this year, since the Comhairle is one of three Councils (the other two are our Island colleagues in Shetland and Orkney) to suffer a real terms funding cut to our revenue allocations whilst the remaining 29 Councils have seen increases ranging from 0.22% to 2.65%.
The reduction in our revenue allocations has been 15% over the last 7 years, equating to £17.5m over that period.”
The Comhairle’s Capital allocation, the money for roads and buildings, was reduced by £0.9m. Cllr Mackay said this “continues the disappointing trend of reduction in core funding”.