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Nwicker60
03-Sep-12, 17:50
Meetings designed to find ways to bridge 30m funding gap

TWO meetings in a series of 12 public consultation events on Highland Council’s budget for 2012 – 2017 are being held in:

the Norseman Hotel, Wick on Tuesday 11 September; and
Durness Village Hall on Thursday 13 September, both starting at 6:30pm.
The meetings are joint arrangements of the council’s ward forums for Thurso, Wick and Landward Caithness Wards and the North, West and Central Sutherland Wards.
The three-month long public consultation aims to help bridge a projected budget gap of almost 30 million over the next two financial years. A series of Ward Forums as well as briefing events with business, voluntary and specialist groups are planned before the end of 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 at www.highland.gov.uk/budget2012 (http://www.highland.gov.uk/budget2012.htm).
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 proposed 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, including:

Education;
Ways of working;
Infrastructure and resources; and
The environment.
Leading the consultation is Councillor Dave Fallows, Chairman of the Council’s Finance Housing and Resources Committee. He will be attending the public consultation meetings and moderating a budget blog on the Council’s web site. Each week, he will introduce a new subject for discussion on the blog. The theme for the blog this week will be - “Working with Partners, other Organisations and Communities”, covering:

Suggestion on working with public sector to share functions and reduce costs; and
Should communities be encouraged to run services for themselves?
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.”
Councillor Fallows 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.”
For further information, about The Highland Council’s budget meeting arrangements for the Wick meeting please contact: David Sutherland, Ward Manager - Thurso, Wick and Landward Caithness tel: 01955 607784 and for the Durness meeting please contact: Andy MacKay, Ward Manager - North, West and Central Sutherland tel: 07776 465844