Service points to close despite local outcry

BY KEITH MACKENZIE

Highland Council delivered another bitter blow to the west coast, as plans to axe 23 of its 35 service point facilities were approved yesterday (Wednesday).

The council’s finance, housing and resources committee approved the motion — which it is estimated will save £160,000 — in spite of the impassioned pleas of opposition councillors, community councils and a local petition signed by 650 people from the Kyle of Lochalsh area alone.

Kyle, along with Broadford, Lochcarron and Gairloch, now stands to lose its service point facility.
Under the proposals – which can now only be overturned by a vote of the full council — the 35 service points will be replaced with 12 “hub” facilities, with a new website designed to cut out the need for face-to-face access. Skye and Lochalsh’s only remaining service point will be in Portree, the next nearest being at either Dingwall or Fort William.

None of the six councillors in the Skye and Lochalsh area sit on the finance committee, but Skye member John Gordon and his mainland colleague Audrey Sinclair both spoke out against the move.
“In three-and-a-half days, there were 650 signatures on a petition in the Kyle area. That is the people speaking,” said Dr Sinclair.

Dr Sinclair feared the closures would have a detrimental impact on the vulnerable and the elderly — the groups who tend to be the most frequent service point users. She said the method the council had used to arrive at its decision had taken little cognisance of the ageing population. In Skye and Lochalsh, she added, the population aged 75 or over is set to rise by 143 per cent in the next 20 years.

At Wednesday’s meeting Margaret Davidson, an independent who represents Aird and Loch Ness, accused her committee colleagues of  displaying an “astonishing lack of humility”, over the plans.
She felt it “astonishing” and “unacceptable” that the administra­tion had driven through the measures without any local consultation.

After over two hours of debate, a motion put forward by independent group leader Carolyn Wilson — which asked that the status quo remain, and that the budget savings be taken instead from a surplus in the council’s loan fund — was rejected.

The independent group will now take the matter to the full council next month, in the hope that some coalition councillors will vote against the ruling administration.

Highland Council have said they will allow 15 months to work with service point staff to put in place the new arrangements. The council’s new website, intended to make it easier to pay for services online, will be launched by the end of April.

Sleat Community Council chair­man Roddy Murray who helped mobilise opposition from neigh­bour­ing community councils,  said following Wednesday’s decision: “We are very disappointed. The council does not seem to be giving any sort of democratic voice to this part of the world. It’s now up to local councillors, and we can only hope that there will be enough support to overturn the decison.”

Mr Murray is pictured above at Monday’s meeting of community councils.

keith.mackenzie@whfp.co.uk