Council services face greater threats than ever as national spending cuts bite deeper…and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is a launching an Islands-wide effort to find ways to keep services alive while spending less on them.
Councillors this week are considering a radical programme of Service Redesign to take account of this enduring climate of financial austerity which threatens services.
CnES says that all Local Authorities in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are faced with significant financial challenges and possible cuts to local services.
Comhairle Leader, Roddie Mackay, says he is committed on behalf of all councillors to work with services, Departments, communities and others to find new ways to protect public services.
He said: “Since 2010 the Comhairle’s funding has been cut by 17% (the highest of any council in Scotland) and over 230 local authority jobs (FTE) have been lost in our community.
“Whilst we don’t know what our financial settlement from Government is going to be for the next financial year we estimate we will have to make significant savings.
“We have committed to making savings of nearly £10m through service redesign but the fact is that even more may be required. I and other members do not believe that we can just cut services.
“We need to consider different ways of doing things and that is why we are embarking on these discussions which will pave the way for community consultations.”
A recent report from Oxford Economics earlier this year identified a threat to jobs in the Islands over the next few years due to government spending restraints, subdued economic activity and Brexit uncertainty.
They estimate a loss of 500 jobs by 2028 with occupations closely associated with the public sector services continuing to face particular decline.
At a recent Comhairle seminar, officers and members discussed a process of community engagement and empowerment aimed at identifying those issues that are important to local communities.
In addition they were investigating ways that could reduce the demand for some services, identify other services that could be more efficiently provided by communities, and agree which services could be cut.
The Comhairle will be considering the maximum possible transfer of of services and staff to rural area hubs, and using digital technology to support more of its business functions. This, in turn, should provide a stimulus to a growth in rural housing.
In parallel to these initiatives, work is being done by officers with Scottish Government and national agencies to develop a range of Charters, in the form of Community Offers, designed to encourage economic regeneration in addition to the development of Gaelic language, culture and heritage.
Council Leader Mackay said: “While this is a time of austerity and a threat to public services, this is also a time of opportunity if we work together to engage communities as partners in change.”
The Comhairle will discuss this approach further over its next series of committee meetings and community engagement events will be planned over October/November.