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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has today (Thursday 22 February) announced the setting of a balanced budget – despite a ‘real-terms’ cut in Scottish Government funding.

Today’s statement is to be followed over the coming weeks by further detail after the budget was confirmed at Tuesday afternoon’s budget-setting meeting.

The Comhairle says the Scottish Government’s 2024 financial settlement represents a real-terms reduction of £1.48m, taking into account money ring-fenced for employees' and teachers' pay, and adjustments to funding carried over from the 2022/23 settlement.

The Comhairle will use a further £2m of reserves to balance the budget, along with £1.7m of service changes and reductions.

They will also use investment returns to balance a budget so that it does not make any compulsory redundancies and maintains services at the best levels possible in the financial climate.

Last month CnES leader Cllr Paul Steele noted that the settlement from Scottish Government left the Comhairle with effectively no money to implement service improvement.

Further analysis has made clear that some services are likely to reduce, as the Comhairle makes yet more difficult choices – balancing service reductions against redundancies or the removal of services altogether.

They point out that they have maintained commitment to supporting key non-statutory services, such as the Stornoway-Benbecula air service.

Cllr Steele said: “Put simply, Scottish Government has not provided us with enough money to deliver our services to the public, and councils lack the powers to raise our own revenue without imposing unacceptably high increases in council tax or other charges.

“We are fortunate that our good financial management has once again maintained sufficient reserves to assist us with our budget planning.

“Over the last few months I have visited each area of the Western Isles and met with local representatives. At these meetings I heard the various priorities that individuals and community groups hold and asked what they felt the Comhairle’s priorities should be for the next year.

“The Deputy First Minister recently promised that the Scottish Budget would prioritise the delivery of high-quality public services to the people of Scotland, but that good intention has been manifested by a real-terms cut in the Comhairle's funding, requiring us to use yet more of our diminishing reserves.

“Reserves, as we all know, can only be used once. High-quality public services are not going to be delivered in future unless there is a change of focus towards greater respect and support for Local Government and the services it provides to communities, full and effective island-proofing, and delivery of much-needed change as to how councils are funded and to the structure of our public services in island communities.

“The position of Barra and Vatersay, still waiting for new hospital, education and leisure facilities, demonstrates beyond doubt how current structures and processes are not delivering on the ground. Our communities deserve better.

“The Comhairle welcomes the ongoing engagement with Scottish Government to improve this year's budget.

“The Comhairle will continue this engagement to ensure that the Western Isles receives the investment needed to stem depopulation and improve the quality of life for people living in our communities.”