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Support to Communities (Highlands and Islands)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd March 2016.

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Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

5. To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to communities in the Highlands and Islands. (S4O-05700)

Photo of Marco Biagi Marco Biagi Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government and its public sector partners continue to make significant investment in our communities, including the Highlands and Islands. For example, yesterday we announced a £315 million Inverness and Highland city region deal, including a Scottish Government commitment of up to £135 million over 10 years. The deal, which also includes up to £53 million from the United Kingdom Government and up to £127 million from the Highland Council and its regional partners, contains a package of measures aimed at improving the regional economy. Those include better transport connectivity and digital networks, increases in innovation, more local housing and assisted living schemes.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

Communities across the Highlands and Islands are on the front line of council cuts. In my home area, the Highland Council has made cuts of £30 million, with 341 staff facing redundancy. Is the minister aware that, in the Highlands, bereaved families face rocketing burial charges, with an increase of more than 50 per cent, bringing funeral poverty to the region’s most vulnerable people at a time of acute grief?

The council leader places responsibility for the cuts squarely at the door of the Scottish Government settlement. Does the minister agree?

Photo of Marco Biagi Marco Biagi Scottish National Party

Highland Council is receiving £439 million from the Scottish Government and as my colleague the cabinet secretary has already said, the overall reduction nationally for local government is 1 per cent when the figures for health and social care are taken into account. That money is going towards achieving the living wage for health and social care staff and a further freeze on council tax bills and it is going to deliver great advantages for the whole of the country.

There are clearly challenges that each local authority will have to address in deciding how they want to deal with the financial circumstances. Those are the same financial circumstances and the same challenges that have been striking the entire public sector.

On the issue of funeral poverty in particular, the member will be aware of the work that has been done by the Scottish Government and Citizens Advice Scotland and that was launched by the cabinet secretary relatively recently. We will take forward action from that work.