ABERDEENSHIRE Council are pushing forward with radical plans to close a number of Formartine council offices in a bid to save money.
Facilities at 59 Station Road and Neil Ross Square are being scrutinised by officers as part of the council’s programme to rationalise service delivery across the shire, with a stated goal of saving hundreds of thousands of pounds. The offices at 59 Station Road are planned to close in the first phase of the plan over the coming two years, followed by the two Neil Ross Square offices in the second phase. Staff at the offices in question will be relocated to other facilities in the area.
Also scheduled for closure is the social work office at Meldrum Business Centre, with staff relocated to Gordon House in Inverurie as part of the second phase of the plans.
Ellon currently hosts five local government offices, excluding the police station. Oldmeldrum hosts two, though the Council’s Library Headquarters at Meldrum Meg Way will be unaffected by the changes.
Staff at 59 Station Road are expected to move to extant offices on Schoolhill Road and 25 Station Road, while Neil Ross staff must wait until options for their redeployment have been fully explored. One possibility, mooted at Monday’s community council meeting, is that the local authority could retain some element of the old academy site for delivery of council services at a one-stop council ‘service point’.
The proposals came before councillors at the Formartine Area Committee yesterday in a report by Allan Whyte of the authority’s Property and Facilities management team. In it, Mr Whyte outlines potential savings of £246,000 a year to be made from rationalisation across Formartine in the first phase, rising to £920,000 in the second. The report also suggests that the council could raise up to £408,000 from the sale of the Municipal Buildings in Turriff, and 59 Station Road Ellon.
Council Leader Anne Robertson welcomed the proposals, saying: “We’ve waited for this for a long time,”
Area Manager Keith Newton went out of his way to stress that the proposals would not affect service delivery to the town.
“We’re not looking, in Ellon, to reduce the level of service. In fact, it’s the opposite: we’re looking to provide much more useful services to the community.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Rob Merson said that he was generally in support of the proposals, conditional on there being no reduction of service.
“The Council currently has a plethora of Council offices scattered throughout Ellon, and I believe that considerable efficiencies and savings could be made by carrying out a rationalisation of those properties,” he said. “Consideration must also be given to property and sites becoming available as a result of the new academy project, the relocation of the Household Waste and Recycling Centre, and other proposals currently on the drawing board, as potential alternative locations for the provision of Council services.
“As it currently stands, the only property due to be phased out during the first stage is at 59 Station Road, and the two Council offices in Neil Ross Square will be reviewed at the second stage. I am particularly keen that prime shopping sites in the town centre should be marketed and promoted for retail use rather than being occupied as Council offices.”
Cllr Isobel Davidson also supported the move, adding: “I feel that the office rationalisation is reasonable in the circumstances. The Worksmart scheme means that not all staff need to be allocated a specific desk and some staff do not spend a lot of time at desk based jobs anyway. This means that we can reduce the number of offices in Ellon and reduce our costs - it may, in some cases also mean that travelling costs are reduced for both staff and the Council.”
Last Monday’s Community Council meeting saw Chairwoman Moira Muir push for an early submission on behalf of the community council for the old academy site to be considered as a future ‘service centre’ for the town in place of the offices which are scheduled to close. There was wide agreement that the present situation was unsustainable, and that a ‘one stop shop’ for council services would be preferable.
Moira told the Times: “We understand the need for the council to save money, and support the proposals as long as Ellon doesn’t lose services. As a growing town, it requires more services, and not less.”