Leaked Highland Council Budget Proposals
The impact of the UK Government’s obsession with austerity, continues to be felt in thousands of households across the Highlands. This continues to mean that the Highlands, indeed Scotland, face significant challenges when it comes to maintaining services. It is a challenge that the Scottish Government continues to have to attempt to mitigate in order to protect the values that we hold dear.
The Highland Council administration, like those who have governed before them, will have their own difficult choices to make and whilst these will be challenging, it must not follow that the most vulnerable in our society are targeted.
As a former previous Highland Council Leader, I know only too well how tough these decisions can be, but I also know that targeting areas that support those who most need our help, is not the answer, nor is it what Highlanders want.
Indeed, if we were to ask the public what services they most wanted to protect, I suspect there are few would not mention education and the support services that protect and nurture our children.
This, like all budgets that have come before, is a budget about choices.
There may be those in the Highland Council’s ruling administration that will have you believe that these cuts are the making of the Scottish Government – completely omitting the swinging cuts delivered year after year to Scotland from Westminster – but in contrast to the support for local government in Scotland, MPs from England and Wales talk about the devastation in their own council areas, some where budgets are down, in real terms, by almost a third.
Choices in Westminster, driven by an austerity agenda have meant that thousands of families face hardship week after week as welfare cuts hit their pockets, they have brought about the rollout of Universal Credit, which is causing misery to everyone it touches, and new data from End Child Poverty shows 18% of children are living in poverty in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. All issues I fight against day in, day out as a Member of Parliament.
Choices by the Scottish Government are, of course, can never be perfect but they are driven by an outcomes based agenda that has fairness and dignity at its heart. Examples range from paying to ensure that nobody in Scotland has to face the bedroom tax, the delivery of baby boxes to expectant mothers to free personal care for our elderly – these are choices that put a marker down as the kind of society we want to be and protect the fabric of our communities.
So whilst the choices the Council will make, will inevitably be difficult, they must speak to the priorities of the people it serves and I hope that this proposal has not been “leaked” to make later decisions seem less damaging or as an exercise in testing the water – that would be crass in the extreme.
Finally, I am pleased that the SNP Highland Council Group stated their strong opposition to these proposals, along with hundreds of parents and staff and other local politicians. Over the coming weeks, it is crucial that we all work with our communities, to dissuade the ruling Independant, Labour and Lib Dem administration from implementing cuts to the very services we should be protecting.