Update on Culture and Sport proposal

Councillors have agreed to shelve plans to move Culture and Sport within Aberdeenshire Council into a Trust.

Back in November 2017, members agreed to progress with plans to move these services into a Trust model. At that time, they recognised that any changes to non-domestic rates could have an impact on the financial model. Councillors agreed that if the position changed significantly, they should have the opportunity review the decision.

Later that month, it was confirmed that any financial benefits previously afforded to all new Trusts would be removed. Meanwhile, HMRC confirmed that any VAT benefit of setting up a model such as this would also be removed.

Since that time, officers have been challenging the decision while discussing the implications. However, it has become clear that the Trust model would cost the Council over £600,000 in the first year alone, a significant change from the £500,000 per year saving that was originally expected.

At the meeting of Full Council this week, Councillors agreed to take no further action towards setting up a Trust. They asked officers to take some time to look at another model, and they recognised that there were significant service delivery improvements that could be made by a re-design.

Councillors will consider a report in March which will set out, at a high level, the new vision for Culture and Sport Services in Aberdeenshire. This could see the creation of a new model which, while keeping the services within the Council, would offer the opportunity to maximise social entrepreneurship opportunities and funding streams not currently available.

Elected members praised staff who have been working to progress the Trust model and passed on their thanks to employees in Culture and Sport for their patience.

Councillor Anne Stirling, chair of the Communities Committee, said: “I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of staff who have continued to work hard in the face of recent complexity and uncertainty and can now press ahead with a new direction for the service.

"There is an opportunity here to review how the service is run and create a legacy with the benefits open to us whilst keeping the culture and sport facilities in the Council. It feels like the right thing to do in the current climate to keep moving forward.”

Cllr Alison Evison supported the decision and said: “The decision to take no further action on the Trust is the right thing to do given the new circumstances. The work done towards the Trust did benefit from real engagement with staff and unions and I urge that this way of working continues as we move forward to look at other ways to deliver services and protect jobs in Aberdeenshire.

"I would also like to add my thanks to the staff who continue to keep sport and cultural services in Aberdeenshire running so successfully in times of uncertainty.”

Jim Gifford is the Council Leader. Speaking after the meeting he said: “The Trust model did offer opportunities to the Council, but members sensibly made sure early on that we had the ability to reverse this decision if the position changed. It has, and we reacted quickly and sensibly.

"The debate today paid tribute to all of the staff who have been at the centre of this discussion and I am confident that the future direction for the service will contain some exciting opportunities.”

Councillor Gillian Owen is chair of the Education and Children’s Services Committee, which has responsibility for cultural services. She said: “We’re working in a challenging financial context, and it’s important that we stress our commitment to sustaining culture and sport as best we can, so as to best deliver on our priorities.

"It is in this context that this report seeks to be prudent in its approach to the original Trust proposal, but seeks to maintain the momentum we have established to explore the strongest option for best securing culture and sport for the long term”

All speakers can be viewed on the archive webcast of the meeting: https://aberdeenshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/home