Aberdeenshire Council sets budget for 2017/18

Aberdeenshire Council has agreed its budget for 2017/18. The budget supports local services worth £546 million and the delivery of an ambitious capital programme for building new schools, leisure centres and roads projects.

Co-Leader Cllr Alison Evison proposed the motion to agree the budget proposals. She said: “We must balance our responsibility for the delivery of these services, alongside the very real challenge of dealing with increasing costs, greater pressures on our services and a reducing financial settlement from the Scottish Government.”

Councillors agreed to raise Council Tax for the first time in nine years. A rise of 2.5% was agreed, costing the average Band D taxpayer an extra £28 a year.

Following publication of the budget proposals last week, the Scottish Government announced an additional £160million to local government – with Aberdeenshire’s share just over £8 million – split £6.3 million in Revenue and £1.8m Capital.

As a result of the additional money, the Administration’s motion suggested changes to the savings required.

Some of the extra money will be used to lessen the impact of the savings on education – in particular, the Early Learning & Childcare review and the strategic review of libraries, arts and heritage services which will proceed without any reduction to their budgets; the savings required as a result of a review of the pricing structure in leisure and sporting facilities were reduced and concessionary schemes protected.

There will be new investment to support teacher and early learning recruitment, and additional incentives for people wanting to teach in Aberdeenshire. There will also be grants for the third sector and investment in sports development and local tourist attractions like Macduff Marine Aquarium.

The council recognised the importance of health and social care and the need to provide services that meet the needs of an ageing population. As a result, councillors decided to pass across all the funding for the Integrated Joint Board, which supports health and social care services.

Money was found to protect road maintenance programmes and waste collection schedules, along with the mini Household Waste and Recycling Centres and the seasonal garden waste skips. There was also a commitment to invest in active travel and passenger transport.

Councillors also discussed a package of savings required to deliver a balanced budget. Savings in excess of £20 million were agreed including more effective procurement, treasury management and a re-profiling of the delivery of capital plan savings.

Co-Leader Cllr Richard Thomson seconded the motion and reflected on the concerns of local businesses following the recent business rates revaluation. He said: “We have heard from businesses across Aberdeenshire who will be affected by the rise in business rates. We are committed to sustaining businesses in the North East and will continue to support them in a measured way.”

He instructed officers to bring a report to the March meeting of Full Council with a detailed scheme for supporting businesses in need and which will consider the impact of the business rates increase in Aberdeenshire.

The Opposition put forward an alternative budget which included no rise in Council Tax over and above the rise implemented by the Scottish Government on Bands E-H. Cllr Jim Gifford called on the council to deliver more savings from within by delivering greater efficiencies and by re-allocating money set aside in reserves.

Cllr Gifford added that there was a lack of certainty around the additional funding promised by Scottish Government and stated that he wouldn’t allocate any of the £8.3million until the position was confirmed.

In seconding the alternative budget from the Opposition, Cllr Karen Clark called it a ‘responsible and balanced view of the budget … without inflicting more pain on our residents.’

Cllr Martin Ford welcomed the Administration’s budget, in particular focusing on the rise in Council Tax saying that it would be dishonest for the council to say that it could continue to deliver a high level of services without people contributing to the payment of these. He also welcomed the extra money into youth work, traffic calming and speeding reduction and active travel.

Following a lengthy and robust debate, the Administration’s budget was agreed by 33 to 32 votes.