Radical move to seek ‘fairer deal’ for remote communities agreed

Highland Council will consult on how to ensure 'a more localised form of democracy'.

Radical move to seek ‘fairer deal’ for remote communities agreed iStock

Councillors have agreed proposals for radically revamping the way Highland Council functions.

A public consultation will feature as part of a wholesale review aimed at guaranteeing people in remote and fragile communities a fairer financial deal.

There has been cross-party support for ensuring “a more localised form of democracy”.

The ambitious idea was proposed at Friday’s council meeting by Conservative Caithness councillor Struan Mackie.

His motion was debated in an online full council meeting.

Members ultimately agreed in a 27-22 vote to engage with the public, council staff, unions and other relevant stakeholders to consider ways of improving the local authority’s democratic process.

A review will “seek to establish a strategy to ensure an equitable allocation of local government funding comes to Highland” that takes factors such as rurality, poverty and economic development into account.

Speaking afterwards, Councillor Mackie said: “I think we can feel relatively happy that there is going to be some progress.

“What you saw at the meeting was an awful lot of the membership effectively accepting that Highland Council does not work for their local communities. Hopefully, that acceptance is something that can be taken forward with this review.

“Although it’s a positive step in the right direction, there’s an awful lot of work to do in order to deliver those kind of local governance structures that reflect the communities that councillors represent.”

Asked if it would mean splitting the vast area into separate entities, he said: “We haven’t said that we want to carve up the council into two or three or four separate areas.

“What we’ve effectively asked for is for the Scottish Government to do a review and look at where local authorities could work better – and based on that we could bring something to the people that would hopefully have the support.

“In terms of our expectations, it’s really a kind of wait-and-see but we’ll certainly keep holding their feet to the fire to make sure that this review is done and done in a timely manner as best as we can.”

The council, which has an annual budget of about £600m, has frequent arguments between members representing Inverness and many outwith the city.

There was a level of acceptance at the meeting that the most remote areas should receive a fairer share.

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