Councillors recommended budget approval

OICCouncillors have recommended Orkney Islands Council’s budget for the next financial year, at a meeting in which the Scottish Government was criticised by one councillor for its “bully boy” tactics in the way in which local authorities are funded by them.

The Policy and Resources Committee which met today, Thursday, agreed that £79.2 million should be spent on running council services in in 2016-17.

Members recommended that savings of £1.4 million should be found during the year ahead. This follows a higher-than-expected reduction in the funding the council will receive from the Scottish Government to run services in 2016-17.

Councillors also recommended:
• To freeze Council Tax levels for the ninth year running, with the Band D rate continuing to be £1,037.
• That funding support for the voluntary sector should increase by 1% for the sixth year running.
• That charges for council services should increase by at least 3% in 2016-17, with a number of exceptions including Orkney Ferries fares, planning applications and building warrants, and licensing fees.

The measures recommended by the committee would result in a reduction of the council’s workforce by the equivalent of just under 10 full time equivalent posts, out of a workforce of around 1500 people.

The council says that just under five full time equivalent posts are currently vacant, and added for the remaining posts, the intention would be to avoid compulsory redundancies if at all possible and to look instead at alternatives such as redeployment, voluntary redundancy and retirement.

Council Convener Steven Heddle said: “As has been widely reported, there has been a significant reduction in our funding from the Scottish Government.

“Like all other local authorities in Scotland, we feel we have been left with no option other than to accept the settlement offered to us by the government. We would face onerous financial sanctions if we fail to accept the settlement.”

He added: “A great deal of effort has gone into finding ways to lessen the impact of this on services, jobs and our community.
“It means that the savings we are recommending for the year ahead are considerably less than those required if we applied in full the cut in our funding from the Scottish Government.”

The council also said the careful management of the council’s capital programme has enabled ways to be found to reduce the burden on the revenue budget for the year ahead. This means the required savings can be made over a longer period.

The recommendations made today will now be considered by the meeting of the Full Council next Thursday.

The Scottish Government settlement offer includes money to compensate local councils for not putting up the council tax, and has made it almost impossible for local authorities to put up their council tax charges to cover any shortfall in running services without being financially penalised.

On the issue, Councillor Graham Sinclair said: “These bully boy tactics of the Scottish Government is reprehensible,” especially, he added, to what difference a modest increase in council tax could do within the budget setting process.

An attempt was made at the meeting to further offset proposed cuts in services totalling some £844,000 by using further money taken from the council reserve funds.

However, after a vote of 13-3, the proposal by Councillor Maurice Davidson was thrown out, with councillors instead approving of  a budget which, in difficult financial times, received widespread praise and approval from several councillors as the best way forward.