Council tax in the Western Isles is set to rise by 3%, councillors have agreed.

Members heard the authority faced a £6.6 million funding gap, with government funding having been reduced from £121 million in 2010, to £102 million this year.

Cuts agreed last February as part of a two-year plan are expected to save around £3.1 million.

Said a report: “The Comhairle has already identified and agreed savings of £3.1m and this, together with the permitted reduction in health and social care funding of £0.5m, leaves a residual gap of £3m which, in line with the Comhairle’s position, agreed in December 2016, it is recommended be funded from balances.”

Meanwhile, councillors have voted to press ahead with plans to downgrade the Hillcrest children’s care home in Stornoway, in an effort to save £350,000.

This was despite an amendment by Councillor Gordon Murray, asking that the motion be deferred until councillors had more satisfactory information regarding the changes. Councillor Murray’s amendment was defeated by 22 votes to five. 

Said a report: "Demand for residential places both locally and off Island have reduced significantly. Action for Children provides five bed spaces (four residential and one respite) in Hillcrest and in the current financial year has had approximately 50% occupancy. More recently, it has operated at a 25% occupancy and on this basis it is not viable to maintain a facility with only a 25% occupancy and no current agreement for workforce redeployment."

The Comhairle plans to build a new children’s care home facility at a cost of around £2million. 

The report added: "A site at Back was considered but, subject to further evaluation, considered inappropriate. A site adjacent to the existing Sandwick Learning Centre would be more accessible and provide better access to a wider range of services in a more central location. Work is currently being undertaken to establish whether this site is available for development."

Following the meeting, Councillor Murray said: “It is disappointing that the amendment to delay the changes was not supported by the majority of councillors.
“The SNP Group remains dissatisfied and it is difficult to see how other members are now happy with arrangements when no one is clear about the future of the facility.”

(Additional councillor comments have been added since the article was first posted)