INVESTMENT of almost £500 million over the next five years has been agreed by Highland Council – with a bid to be made for more money from the Scottish Government.
Schools and roads were prioritised in the capital plan but many projects were dropped after councillors slashed their budget in the face of rising charges to pay back loans.
On Wednesday councillors were warned it would cost £177 million to make all necessary repairs and upgrades to roads, while 42 per cent of Highland schools are in poor condition.
Councillors unanimously agreed to lobby for more money, as well as looking at alternative, more cost-effective building methods proposed by the SNP. A Conservative motion to look at ways of saving money, and what that should be spent on, was also agreed.
Budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: "The challenges the council faces do not need to be repeated.
"We have been taken aback at the state of some of the schools we have seen due to a lack of maintenance over many decades.
"We will do everything possible to secure additional funding to tend to the dreadful state of our roads and schools.
"We cannot please everyone, there is not enough money to go around, but our priorities are based on need and capacity."
Council leader Margaret Davidson blamed the Scottish Government for the lack of funding, saying: "We recognise the need to invest in our infrastructure and we want to do more. Our capital programme has been significantly reduced due to the financial constraints imposed on us by the Scottish Government but we intend to campaign hard for more capital funding for the Highlands and I am calling on all our councillors, MSPs and MPs to publicly support us."
But opposition councillors hit out at relying on a £50 million grant through the Scottish Government’s Schools for the Future fund for a number of new schools, saying it is misleading to suggest the council will be given such a large amount.
Extension and refurbishment work at Culloden and Charleston academies was approved as part of the council plan – along with a new nursery for Milton of Leys Primary – but improvements to Nairn and Fortrose Academies and Beauly Primary will now depend on securing the national funding.
Aird and Loch Ness councillor Emma Knox said Beauly parents and staff would be "absolutely devastated" to see their plans "shelved".
She said: "These proposals rely on the Schools for the Future funding and we are hoping for £50 million, but this is almost double the amount that the Scottish Government issued in the last tranche, when £28 million was shared by four local authorities."
And opposition leader Maxine Smith said: "I am being contacted by so many people asking what has happened to their schools. They have been promised something and it is not there."
For the full capital programme see http://bit.ly/2tqszPO