COUNCIL officials have hit out at the Scottish Government, claiming a £10 million reduction in its grant could see it having to bring in cuts sooner than expected.
Highland Council is well over £1 billion in debt and had been anticipating a one per cent cut in its annual grant from Holyrood.
In fact, the reduction is more than double that, leaving the local authority scrambling for ways to make up the shortfall.
Admitting previous overspends were also part of the problem, budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: “We were already preparing for a significant reduction, but this news sets us a huge challenge and may mean we will need to bring forward savings from future years.
“The situation will require big changes to what we currently do and how we do it and will require support from our workforce and across the political spectrum.”
Despite the council's view the Scottish Government insisted the funding settlement it has received for the coming year is fair.
A government spokesman said that, combined with its own fundraising powers, it still amounted to a substantial package.
“Highland Council will receive over £500.8 million for local services in 2019-20,” he said. “Using their council tax powers they could also generate an additional £3.8 million to support the delivery of essential local services, meaning an extra £8.3 million next year.
“With this funding, Highland Council has the financial freedom to decide on their priorities for the coming year, with certain statutory requirements like education.”
He added: “We continue to ensure that our partners in local government receive a fair funding settlement, despite further cuts to the Scottish Budget from the UK government.
“We are delivering a funding package of £11.1 billion for local authorities next year – a real terms increase of over £210 million for essential public services in Scotland.”
The council needs £604 million to deliver services at their current level, but is more than £31 million short.
Cllr Mackinnon, said: “The funding settlement and additional requirements for local authorities has increased our anticipated budget gap substantially.
“Income generation and efficiency are key to managing the situation we are in.
“We are determined to do the best we can for Highland within the resources we have and to deliver a budget which protects essential services and jobs which support the wider economy.”