Comhairle nan Eilean Siar this morning (Thursday 27 February) approved a budget for Council spending in 2020-2021, including a Council Tax rise of 4.84%, which, for 9 in every 10 households on our islands will be no more than £1.01 a week.
Amendments for a standstill and a 2% rise were defeated.
Council Leader Roddie Mackay said: "Despite the suggestion that austerity is behind us it remains the case that since 2010 the Comhairle has seen a funding reduction of 14%, the biggest of any council in Scotland, amounting to £16m.
"The new monies announced yesterday, thanks to an agreement with the Green Party, mean that we will have nearly £0.3m less cash to spend on our core services (an improvement of some £0.7m on the original settlement)."
This decision by the SNP and the Greens in Edinburgh was made only minutes before the start of the CnES Policy and Resources committee yesterday (Wednesday 26 February).
Councillor Mackay said: "The Comhairle strives to deliver the best services it can for our communities, educating our children; looking after the vulnerable; keeping our roads safe; and recycling our waste.
"We will continue to do our best to work with the Scottish Government and our communities to minimise the effect on services and offset the impact on our economy.
"Our transformation programme seeks to tackle the reduction in core funding not just by cutting but by redesigning services, empowering our communities, and growing alternative income, both revenue and capital.
"There is no doubt that with reductions in funding of this scale we will still see service reductions which is inevitably reflected in the choices before us. However, we must not lose sight of the progress we have made through initiatives such as eSgoil, the Islands Act, Gaelic – all supported through partnership working. And there is the prospect of announcement of a Growth Deal for the Islands in the next financial year.
"The Comhairle has a long tradition of supporting Health and Social Care and 2020/21 is no exception. I am proposing that we increase the Cùram is Slàinte nan Eilean Siar Budget by passing on in full the additional monies in the settlement.
"I am, however, concerned about the present deficit in the IJB which is one of the reasons why it is important that we protect reserves as much as we can.
"Our available capital funding has also reduced by some £1.4m and, if funding continues at this level, we will have a £5m shortfall in our 2018-23 Programme. I am therefore recommending - there is no alternative - that we undertake an urgent review of the programme for us to consider at the next series of meetings.
"The two biggest projects in our programme, the Lewis Residential Care Development and Castlebay Campus are flagship projects that show what can be delivered through partnership working. However, we must not lose sight of the need for investment our roads and infrastructure.
"This is a difficult budget for all councils but, thanks to our prudent planning and strategic use of balances in this and previous years, we are able to plan our savings in a measured way.
"Nonetheless I am recommending that we use the additional flexibility that the Scottish Government has given us to raise Council Tax by 4.84%, which, for 9 in every 10 households on our islands will be no more than £1.01 a week.
"There remains a risk we may need to revisit our budget following the Scottish Government and UK budget approvals in early March but in the meantime this budget represents a reasonable and responsible continuation of the journey we started in 2018 and I recommend that we continue to work together to implement these recommendations."
The amendment by SNP Councillors to have a freeze on the Council Tax was lost by 19-5; and a separate amendment for a 2% rise was lost 16-8.
SNP Group Leader Gordon Murray said they were 'hugely disappointed' that other councillors had not supported the Group's amendment which proposed that the Comhairle use Reserve funds to fill the funding gap.
Following the meeting Mr Murray said: “I am hugely disappointed that our amendment to give our communities respite by freezing the council tax and making absolutely no cuts to our services was defeated.
“We tried to give money to help dental services in Uist and Bethesda Hospice. There is an undoubtedly strong moral argument that if we have the money we should be putting it to services and not banking it, but all other councillors voted against.”
Comments by SNP added after original publication of the article