Budget approved - but cutbacks on horizon

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Aberdeenshire councillors have approved a budget for the coming year but are facing cutbacks in the future.

They agreed last Thursday to spending of £517 million for 2014-15 to go on frontline services.

But savings of around £49 million will have to be found over the next four years. No decisions have been made about where these will be made.

The savings are due to the Scottish Government grant likely to remain largely unchanged, while the cost of service delivery rises annually.

The ruling Conservative-led coalition administration’s budget was supported by the opposition SNP group and was passed by 63 votes to two.

Council leader Jim Gifford told councillors: “The proposed budget from the Aberdeenshire Alliance is a measured and appropriate response to the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves.

“It reacts to the present while casting a proactive eye to the future and the financial challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead. “These challenges must be addressed so that we can ensure that the correct services are provided in the right place, at the right time for the right cost.

“This will not be easy but by promoting partnership working, we can create strength in our local economy, stimulate our communities and produce certainty in future strategic decisions.”

SNP group leader Hamish Vernal said: “Today we are breaking from tradition and I am accepting the clear invitation from the Leader to join with the Alliance in finding solutions for the challenges that lie ahead for our council.

“This budget maintains a strong financial position for Aberdeenshire and allows a clear strategic direction to be built to ensure that Aberdeenshire is the very best in Scotland.”

The budget makes four key commitments for the next twelve months. These areas cover affordable housing, community planning, infrastructure and regeneration.

An alternative budget was tabled by the Democratic Independent and Green Group (DIGG). The DIGG budget contained proposals for redirecting some existing council spend and generating new income through investment in renewable energy installations on Council-owned sites.

The group described the coalition’s budget as a “missed opportunity”.

Meanwhile, the authority’s capital plan for 2014-2017 includes the new community campus being built at Ellon and new primaries at Kintore, Inverurie and Kinellar.

At the same meeting members agreed to a 4.5% increase in council house rents from April 1 this year. This is part of a three-year programme of rent uplift, introduced last April, which is a key aspect of the housing business plan.

The move follows detailed consultation with council house tenants in 2012, with a further public consultation on rent charges planned for next year.