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Western Isles Council has approved a budget for 2020 that includes a near five per cent rise in the council tax for islanders.
It was at Thursday’s meeting of the full council that comhairle leader Councillor Roddie Mackay’s budget was overwhelmingly approved by members.
In his speech, the comhairle leader said his warning last year on budget day that the comhairle faced greater challenges than at any other time in its history still stood this year.
‘Despite the suggestion that austerity is behind us, it remains the case that since 2010 the comhairle has seen a funding reduction of 14 per cent, the biggest of any council in Scotland, amounting to £16m,’ he said.
‘The new monies announced on Wednesday February 26, thanks to an agreement with the Green Party, mean that we will have nearly £0.3m less cash to spend on our core services [an improvement of some £0.7m on the original settlement].
‘The comhairle strives to deliver the best services it can for our communities, educating our children, looking after the vulnerable, keeping our roads safe and recycling our waste.
‘We will continue to do our best to work with the Scottish Government and our communities to minimise the effect on services and offset the impact on our economy.’
Mr Mackay said the comhairle’s transformation programme sought to tackle the reduction in core funding not just by cutting but by redesigning services, empowering communities, and growing alternative income, both revenue and capital.
‘There is no doubt that with reductions in funding of this scale we will still see service reductions which is inevitably reflected in the choices before us,’ he said.
‘However, we must not lose sight of the progress we have made through initiatives such as eSgoil, the Islands Act, Gaelic – all supported through partnership working. And there is the prospect of announcement of a Growth Deal for the Islands in the next financial year
‘The comhairle has a long tradition of supporting health and social care and 2020/21 is no exception. I am proposing that we increase the Cùram is Slàinte nan Eilean Siar budget by passing on in full the additional monies in the settlement.
‘I am, however, concerned about the present deficit in the IJB which is one of the reasons why it is important that we protect reserves as much as we can.
‘Our available capital funding has also reduced by some £1.4m and, if funding continues at this level, we will have a £5m shortfall in our 2018-23 programme.
‘I am therefore recommending – there is no alternative – that we undertake an urgent review of the programme for us to consider at the next series of meetings.
‘The two biggest projects in our programme, the Lewis Residential Care Development and Castlebay Campus are flagship projects that show what can be delivered through partnership working. However, we must not lose sight of the need for investment our roads and infrastructure.
‘This is a difficult budget for all councils but, thanks to our prudent planning and strategic use of balances in this and previous years, we are able to plan our savings in a measured way.
‘Nonetheless I am recommending that we use the additional flexibility that the Scottish Government has given us to raise Council Tax by 4.84%, which, for nine in every 10 households on our islands will be no more than £1.01 a week.
‘There remains a risk we may need to revisit our budget following the Scottish Government and UK budget approvals in early March but in the meantime this budget represents a reasonable and responsible continuation of the journey we started in 2018 and I recommend that we continue to work together to implement these recommendations.’