The public would like the Council to spend more of their reserves on improving community life in Orkney - and are also willing to look at their communities taking on more responsibility for their local areas.
That's according to feedback received during the Council's recent 'Community Conversations' consultation meetings - a report on which has been published today (Tuesday September 4).
The report details the top ten issues or saving suggestions that were raised by local people - and splits that down further by geographical and service areas.
Top of the issues was that the public felt that if community councils or communities were to take on more, then they'd need a development officer to assist with this, who could then help to source funding streams or develop income generation projects. The suggestion was that funding could come from the reserves for this.
A lot of discussion was also held around communities taking on more responsibility for 'council services' - with roadside maintenance like verge cutting, weeding and ditch clearing being key examples of this. Communities said that they'd like the Council to enable them to do more of this by clarifying insurance provision and health and safety issues.
On the specific question of the reserves, public feedback was that attendees felt that the Council had been managing the reserves well up to now – but that the Council now needed to look at using the reserves to ‘pace change’ and cushion some of the cuts with the biggest impact.
Figures included as part of the presentation at the events showed that the Council has already spent over £68.5m from its reserves over the last 10 years – including £45m for every day services.
It was felt that the Council should be looking at more high-risk investments and projects, from which the returns could then help to fund some priority projects for Orkney – like infrastructure, taking care of the vulnerable, helping to deal with fuel poverty and funding some of the services that make Orkney what it is, i.e. money to continue to keep Orkney attractive and provide high quality cultural and sports provision.
James Stockan is the Leader of Orkney Islands Council and attended and led all five meetings. He said: "The response we received during the meetings in the summer was very heartening. The meetings were well attended and those who came along not only listened to what we had to say about the challenges we are facing but also offered some solid advice and opinion on the direction the Council should be moving in - and where our communities fit into that.
"We posed a specific question on the use of the reserves, expecting to generate a lot of conversation - and local folk did not disappoint on this. The feedback we received was that there was an absolute understanding of why we had been prudent up until now - but that folk felt the time had come to 'loosen the purse strings a little' and help to maintain those things in Orkney that make it the wonderful place it is to live and work.
"The feedback received will be key as officers and members begin to set our budget for next year. A combination of measures, many suggested by the community, will be required to provide some stability to our local economy whilst still being judicious with the reserve fund, ensuring services are as efficient as possible and pursuing opportunities for working together with the community and partners wherever possible."
Five Community Conversation public events were held in June across the mainland of Orkney. The event was also re-run in an amended workshop format as part of the Community Council conference in order to gather views from isles communities.
The events were designed to update the public on the financial pressures and how these are being addressed, as well as giving the public the opportunity to actively engage with this process by identifying areas where communities could take more ownership of services or where income could be generated.
Those taking part in the events were asked to comment on six key questions. The questions posed were:
A copy of the report is available from the 'Related Downloads' section of this page.