Comhairle nan Eilean Siar set its budget for 2018/19 yesterday.
The Comhairle started considering its forward budget strategy in June 2017 when it created a budget Board, comprising Councillors from all Wards and Parties, to oversee its implementation. This has provided the opportunity for feedback from across communities in the process.
The Comhairle’s original projections, based on the recent series of one year settlements from the Scottish Government, were that savings of up to £20m could be required over the term of the Comhairle including £6.3m in 2018/19. This estimate has been revised in light of an improved settlement.
The 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 were agreed yesterday:
- to accept the settlement offer from the Scottish Government
- approve the draft budgets, fees and charges for 2018/19
- seek a delegated budget for the Integration Joint Board at the same level as in 2017/18
- agree a 3% increase in Council Tax; and
- agree a programme of service redesign from 2018 to 2021.