Frontline service cuts used to fund community projects

Aberdeenshire Council’s Policy and Resources Committee held a meeting last week where projects being put forward as a result of the Council’s £25 million underspend were discussed.

Shadow Leader of the Council, Hamish Vernal said: “Individually and collectively, these projects are very worthy and each of them in their own way will contribute to their local communities. However, we should not let that obscure the fact that these monies are only available as a result of the previous council administration’s failure to deliver on their planned budget.

“Frontline council services were cut to the tune of £28 million last year, which led to a great deal of anguish and distress amongst the old, the vulnerable and the young as sheltered housing wardens were withdrawn or cut-back, classroom assistants were removed, and a range of services were scaled back.

“To then discover on top of this that the council had an underspend of some £25 million at the end of the financial year was simply horrendous and raised serious questions about the budget monitoring processes in place.

“While these projects are welcome in themselves, we shouldn’t lose sight of what has been sacrificed in order to fund them in this way. The plain fact is, the majority of last year’s cuts need not have been made had the council been sufficiently robust in its budget monitoring processes.”

SNP councillors argued that a sub-committee be set up to scrutinise future budgets to avoid a situation arising in the future where essential services were being cut which didn’t actually need to be cut.

SNP Finance Spokesperson Cllr Fergus Hood (East Garioch) reiterated his call for more robust budget monitoring in light of the report at today’s meeting which – only four months of the new financial year – was projecting another underspend, this time of £12 million. He said: “The objective is to set a balanced budget and to monitor the Budget to ensure that actual expenditure is monitored to highlight areas of over or underspend. The SNP Group’s proposal to improve Budget Monitoring was rejected back in June as being “unnecessary”, yet here we have a projection already for this financial year showing £12 million will be underspent while frontline services continue to be cut. That cannot be right.”

Cllr Hood also welcomed commitments to local projects announced today. He added: “Insofar as this money is being spent on local projects, I’m delighted that the Committee agreed to allocate £250,000 towards the Newmachar Hall Project.

“On a separate matter, the Capital Plan for 2012/13 was also discussed and now includes funding provision for a second Primary School in Kintore. Residents, parents, pupils, teaching staff and housing developers will all be interested in this decision.”

The Committee also pledged £18million over three years to deliver broadband to more rural parts of Aberdeenshire.