Cost of living, IMF Local Development Plan, and school buses ...
Cost of living and the community
A couple of mailings ago I talked about the cost of living crisis and that grants of up to £10,000 per organisation are being made available by Highland Council with the aim of enabling community groups to provide local activities and support and I encouraged you to get involved. Your community councils have also been contacted about this in the hope that they might have some ideas.
I’m pleased to be able to tell you that I’ve had one group come forward with a plan for Nairn and I’m supporting them in taking that forward but if there’s anyone else out there with an idea then please do say, especially if it’s elsewhere in the ward as I’m very conscious that this can be even more of an issue in hard to reach rural areas.
Cost of living and the council
We’ve got full council meeting this Thursday and I think the big item is going to be the pressure on the council’s budget.
You may have seen in the press that the council is under a lot of pressure from providers of pre-school care to increase the per child money it pays them and a proposal is coming to council to do this which will cost £240,000 or £365,000 this year, depending on when the increase starts. All the indications are that the providers do not regard this as enough and are pressing for more so this may not be the end of that.
There’s also the pay rise which has already been agreed with council workers which is significantly higher than the level the council had budgeted for and there’s more to come with the teachers who are, unsurprisingly, also looking for a decent pay rise this year.
All of this has knock on effects too. So High Life Highland, the charity which runs services for the council like libraries, sports centres, and community centres for the council has similar cost pressures on their payroll budget and we’re being asked to agree another £400,000 to get to them this year.
Meanwhile the energy cost of the many buildings the council runs either directly or through High Life Highland is going through the roof.
And then there’s the care home sector, which is close to collapse in some parts of the Highlands due to financial pressures. We’ve got a paper coming to the next full council about that.
This is all part of a general trend which means that the forecast budget gap for next year (2023/4) is currently £40,900,000.
We live, as the chinese proverb has it, in interesting times and I fear we’re all going to see the results of this in our interactions with Highland Council in future as services are under so much financial pressure.
Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan
We had a request from Nairn River Community Council this week that we four ward councillors should “reject” the Plan as it’s “unfit for purpose”.
I can’t speak for my fellow councillors but I don’t think it’s as binary as that. There are definitely problems with the Plan, and indeed many people in Nairn have commented on it, as I recommended that you do even before I was a councillor, but it does have its positives too and I’ve had meetings with groups who are very much in favour of aspects of it.
I know that officers have already revising the Plan based on feedback received during the last consultation and I think that’s going to put some minds at rest when those changes are made public but your ward councillors continue to talk to officers, especially over some of the infrastructure issues, and I’m hoping that we will get a better Plan out of all of this.
What I do know is that we do need a new Plan which is why I think outright rejection is not an option. The current Plan includes things like Nairn South (the proposal to put a lot more houses south of the hospital, all trying to get into town via Cawdor Road and under the railway bridge) which the developers are still trying to promote and also has the land at Delnies next to the A96 which was recently up for sale being zoned for housing. Neither of these make any sense in 2022 and are both dropped in the new Plan, when it’s approved.
Auldearn/Lochloy school bus
I’ve had reports from parents in Auldearn who have issues with the bus service to Nairn Academy, which also services the pupils of Lochloy, so I’d be interested in hearing from anyone else who has concerns. You can contact me via any of the usual routes but I would prefer email for this as I’m pressing officers and your words help me with that.