Infrastructure Services Committee Round up 1.6.17

Infrastructure Services Committee Round up 1.6.17

The first Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) following the Local Government Election on May 4 saw a number of new councillors and new members of the committee deal with a varied range of business.

The meeting was chaired by ISC vice chair John Cox in the absence of substantive chairman Peter Argyle, who had other commitments.

Stonehaven Flood Protection Scheme confirmed

Following recent approval of the project by the Scottish Government, the committee decided to confirm the proposed Stonehaven Flood Protection Scheme with modifications.

A Scottish Government Reporter recently recommended Aberdeenshire Council’s plans to defend the town should progress following a Public Hearing in the town in March.

The hearing was an opportunity for the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) to consider objections to the scheme.

Following a consultation 12 objections were received – four were resolved through negotiation but the others remained outstanding.

In accordance with legislative procedures, Aberdeenshire Council took a preliminary decision in January 2016 to support the project despite the objections, which officers consider to be outweighed by the benefits to the wider community.

The Council’s Policy and Resources Committee approved funding for the scheme at an estimated value of £14-16 million in September 2014.

It will provide a standard of protection well above the current Association of British Insurers requirements, reducing flood risk to 372 residential properties, two public utility sites, a school and an emergency service site.

Scottish Government Reporter, Martin H Seddon, said he had taken all the matters raised by the objectors into account, but none provided sufficient grounds for modifying or refusing to confirm the scheme.

Modifications had already been proposed and agreed by ISC in January 2016 to address some of the objectors’ concerns.

The Council has proceeded with the scheme under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009, as it has not been possible to secure the land by agreement.

Under section 79 of this Act, once a scheme is confirmed the Council has the power to enter onto land to carry out works.

At last week’s meeting of ISC, councillors confirmed progression of the scheme, with the modifications to alleviate objectors’ concerns, following the Reporter’s recommendation.

Landowners will be notified and the decision will be advertised, before a six-week period for appeals. The scheme then becomes operational.

New Aberdeenshire Social Enterprise Support Fund

The committee approved the creation of a new Aberdeenshire Social Enterprise Support Fund, and urged officers not to delay in consulting on and subsequently implementing the scheme.

Councillors heard council officers and third sector organisations have been working together to create an Aberdeenshire Social Enterprise Charter.

It will outline how the Council will relate to social enterprises, charities, voluntary bodies, mutual and cooperatives.

The Charter is intended to set out shared ambitions to promote social responsibility, build social capital and deliver social value, in support of the Aberdeenshire 2050 vision to secure economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability.

Consultation is taking place to develop this Charter and officers will report back to Full Council on September 28, 2017.

As part of the strengthening of support for social enterprises, Aberdeenshire Council allocated £200,000 as part of the 2017/18 budget setting process.

The money is for the establishment of the Social Enterprise Fund and the committee was presented with an outline of the form it could take and how the money will be spent.

Councillors approved the outline plans and urged officers to consult on them at the earliest opportunity, then apply the fund for the benefit of local social enterprises without reverting to the committee for prior approval.

The outline will now be further developed then implemented after consulting social enterprises, national and local bodies supporting social enterprises, and individual experts within and outwith the Council.

Given councillors’ direction, following an amendment of the report’s recommendations by councillor Paul Johnston (Mid Formartine), supported by councillor Alison Evison, the scheme will then be implemented and a progress report brought back to councillors at a later date.

Social enterprises, of which there are around 245 in Aberdeenshire, are businesses trading for the common good rather than private gain. They tackle social problems, strengthen communities, improve people’s life chances, and protect the environment.

Social enterprises reinvest any profits to deliver these social purposes and on dissolution, any assets left have to be reinvested in another organisation with similar aims and objectives.

This is referred to as an “asset lock”. Social enterprises aspire to financial independence through trading, which sets them apart from other charities and voluntary organisations. They operate outside the direct influence or control of public authorities.

Funds Distributed and Proposed Changes to the Support for Aberdeenshire Business Scheme and Business Gateway Activity 2016-2017

The committee approved the re-establishment of the First Employee Grant Scheme in Aberdeenshire, through the Support for Aberdeenshire Business (SAB) Scheme.

Councillors receive a report every year on the funds distributed through the Support for Aberdeenshire Business Scheme and the work carried out under the Business Gateway contract.

The SAB grant and loan scheme is for businesses operating within Aberdeenshire, or businesses moving into Aberdeenshire, with a proposal to develop their business. To qualify a business has to demonstrate that their proposal meets certain criteria.

The committee heard that last year the SAB Scheme assisted 37 businesses and helped to create 66.5 jobs and safeguard 54. Its funding helped lever in £5,650,740 from other sources to ensure that applicants’ projects went ahead.

The First Employee Grant Scheme, which helped businesses take on their first employee with a £1,000 grant and advice, was run between March 2011 and February 2016.

The council’s new Economic Development Action Plan 2017- 2021 commits the council to the reintroduction of the first employee grant scheme. Changes to the Support for Aberdeenshire Business Scheme to accommodate this were approved by the committee.

Business Gateway, funded by the Scottish Government, is provided to deliver business support to pre-starts, start-ups, and growth businesses. Aberdeenshire is the Lead Authority for the project in the area and is responsible for ensuring provision in the Aberdeen City and Shire area.

The current contract for delivery, which started on 1 April 2017, is held by Enterprise North East Trust trading as Elevator. The committee received a report outlining performance for the previous contract, held by the same company, which ended on 31 March 2017.

The target for start-up assists (1,000 new starts) was met, with 584 (58%) of those business start-ups trading in Aberdeenshire. 150 businesses registered for VAT or employed at least one employee, of which 83 (55%) were Aberdeenshire-based.

Growth businesses are those that are expected to turnover more than £200k within three years and this group of businesses receive enhanced support. The Business Gateway service assisted 115 Growth companies and 45 of these businesses (39%) were in Aberdeenshire. Of these, nine businesses were recognised as having great potential to grow and export their goods or services. These businesses worked with Business Gateway to a point where they were handed over to a Scottish Enterprise Account Manager.

This year the local advisory service helped a number of businesses through the use of expert help and in Aberdeenshire 46 businesses benefitted from this service.

Some of these businesses used consultants to help the business cope with difficult trading conditions, improving the health of the business and safeguarding jobs.

You can see a breakdown of the SAB grants and loans awarded in the year 2016-17 by Council Area and also how recipient businesses were distributed by industry sector, as well as a summary of the results achieved by Support for Aberdeenshire Business for the year to March 31, 2017 in the report to committee.

More information on the support it offers to businesses can be found on the Business Gateway website.

Programme for Walking, Cycling and Safety Initiatives

The committee agreed a programme of works relating to walking, cycling and safety initiatives for the financial year 2017/18 worth a total of £3.191million, coming from a wide variety of sources.

Councillors agreed a range of local projects be presented to Local Area Committees over the next few weeks for approval.

They also agreed a number of Aberdeenshire-wide projects, principally relating to promotion of sustainable and active travel, including promotional campaigns, marketing and education.

The Aberdeenshire-wide projects which councillors agreed as well as further information can be found in the report to committee. (PDF File)