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Nwicker60
20-Aug-12, 11:10
Council must find savings of 30 million pounds over next two financial years to balance books

HIGHLAND Council has today launched a three-month long public consultation to help bridge a projected budget gap of almost 30 million over the next two financial years. A series of ward forums (http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/news/haveyoursay/budget2012/budgetconsultationevents.htm) as well as briefing events with business, voluntary and specialist groups are planned before 19 October to complement the views expressed by staff, trade unions and the council’s Citizen Panel of 2,300 residents.
The public can also access the budget information and comment online (http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/news/haveyoursay/budget2012/).
The aim is to bring a report to the full council in December and agree the budget for 2013/14 and 2014/15 in February of next year.
The savings required by the council in 2013/14 and 2014/15 are 29.7 million. Already agreed are savings of 17.8 million, leaving a gap of 11.9 million.
The public will be asked to comment on four main areas of operation:-

Education
Ways of working
Infrastructure and resources
The environment
Council Leader Councillor Drew Hendry said: “The assistance we received from the public two years ago was invaluable and therefore we intend to build on this success in repeating the exercise. The financial environment looks challenging even beyond the next two financial years so the consultation will also assist in our longer term budget planning.”
Leading the consultation is Councillor Dave Fallows, Chairman of the Finance Housing and Resources Committee. He will be attending the public consultation meetings and moderating a budget blog on the Council’s web site, which will be launched on Monday 27 August. Each week, he will introduce a new subject for discussion, starting with education.
He recalled the success of a similar budget consultation in 2010 when the comments of the public helped the Council agree a package of savings for three years totalling 55 million. The public had told the council it needed to look at income generation, management costs and making the best use of its assets.
The council had since introduced advertising in council publications and on its web site; reduced management costs by 1.3 million; and transferred the running of culture and leisure services to a not-for-profit organisation – High Life Highland.
The council had also moved to fortnightly bin collections and reduced costs on street lighting through dimming and off-peak switch off of lights.
He said: “Following the close of our consultation, all comments will be collated and analysed. The findings will be considered and firm budget proposals will be developed. Some of these proposals will be considered when the council meets in December and the final proposals at a meeting of the council in February, next year. We will assess any proposals for the impact they may have on different groups within our community."