Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has set its budget for 2019/20 described by Leader Roddie Mackay as ‘more challenging than the Comhairle has faced in its history.’
The Comhairle agreed recommendations for a 4.79% increase in Council Tax which will mean an increase of between 60p and one pound per week for most people in the Islands.
Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay also moved that care home charges be increased by 3%, overturning a recommendation from the IJB of substantial increases. Mr Mackay said:
“Whilst I understand the requirement on the IJB to recover its costs for care homes I do not consider it acceptable to move to this position in a single year.
I would therefore propose that we agree an increase of 3% for 2019/20. The IJB Chief Finance Officer has confirmed that this would not directly affect their draft budget.
In addition I suggest that we ask for a further report on increases in future years, together with their impact on the IJB financial plan.”
Mr. Mackay highlighted that since 2010 the Comhairle has had huge funding reductions and that for the current year the Comhairle has £1.7m less cash to spend on core services.
He said: “Our service redesign programme that we started last year means that we are already on the road to realising the necessary savings but difficult decisions around Economic Development, Bus Services and Waste in the coming months are only the first we will have to address.
Our transformation programme seeks to tackle the reduction in core funding by empowering our communities, and growing alternative income, both revenue and capital. I was very much encouraged by the engagement in our community conversations last year and am looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in the second round which will start later this month.”
On Capital Mr Mackay highlighted that the available money was less than anticipated but that the Comhairle has made big commitments to the Lewis Residential Care Project and Castlebay and could look forward to progress on both projects.
However, Mr. Mackay warned that “our projections show there is no sign of any easing of the pressure on local government budgets. In addition there remains considerable uncertainty in relation to Brexit, which could lead to revised UK and Scottish budgets.”