Crofters, children, carers and housebound book-lovers will be among those to feel the squeeze from budget cuts proposed by Comhairle officers, as they struggle to balance the books in an ever-more-constrained funding environment.
The policy and resources committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will be asked tomorrow (Wednesday 8 February) to approve a draft budget for 2023/24 which includes above-inflation fee rises at Stornoway abattoir, reviewing the need for library vans and increasing lair fees at council-run burial grounds.
Also in the budget are proposals to:
- Cut support to Action for Children, the Foyer Project and Who Cares Scotland by 5%
- Reduce grants to arts partners including An Lanntair, Taigh Chearsabhagh, Hebridean Celtic Festival, the Eilean Dorcha Festival and Fèisean nan Gàidheal
- Increase the cost of marine fuel and non-commercial pier dues and
- Discontinue the traffic warden post left vacant due to retirement (see our story at https://www.welovestornoway.com/index.php/articles-auto-3/27484-the-end-of-traffic-wardens)
The report says that the Comhairle plans to increase fees and charges at Stornoway abattoir above inflation, to make the operation ‘cost neutral.’ Financial break-even at the abattoir would reduce the operational budget by £35,000. The Comhairle is also to look at options to sell skins and fleeces.
The library service is to undergo a complete streamlining review, including of the need for library vans. It will focus on digitalisation of services and the provision of ‘corporate service points’ in all libraries. An estimated £100,000 could be saved from this service.
Lair fees at Comhairle-run burial grounds, like interment fees, are described as ‘currently the lowest in Scotland.’ The report suggests that charges should be increased gradually until full cost recovery can be achieved.
The council runs 14 burial grounds including Sandwick, Borve and Luskentyre, Clachan Sands and Cuier in Barra and expects to be able to cut £40,000 from their budget in this way.
The two largest potential savings areas are in reduction of posts and cuts in the physical estate owned by the council.
In education, four secondary school teaching posts could be cut, reducing senior subject choices but saving £200,000. Other education posts in line for cuts include support for learning staff, administrators and cleaning/catering services, all of which will be subject to performance and efficiency reviews.
The report proposes relocating the children and families team to Sandwick Road, disposing of Tolsta School and reviewing lease and office agreements for the Old Carinish School and Shawbost Old School. There’ll be a further review of all old schools remaining on the account.
Other physical estate to be disposed of includes the ice-making plant at Ardveenish, which currently runs at a £20,000 annual loss. Other council-owned buildings will be reviewed for possible sharing arrangements with public sector organisations, and surrounding grass areas may no longer be cut.
The whole budget strategy and update is to be presented to councillors tomorrow in a joint report by Comhairle chief executive Malcolm Burr and chief financial officer Norman Macdonald.
It follows detailed analysis of the budget position presented to meetings of the budget board and policy and resources committee in November 2022 and January this year, and members’ seminars in November and this week, providing an opportunity for more discussion and explanation of the overall financial position.
The report recommends that councillors authorise the chief executive and chief financial officer to prepare the draft budget for 2023/24 on this basis.
The full report is at https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/media/20496/I-9A-Budget-Strategy-and-Update.pdf
The pictures show Uist’s new mobile library van ‘Lachie Leabharlann’ with staff members Eilidh, Joan and Donald Ewen.