“Lack of detail” budget is approved

Woodhill House. Copyright Colin Walker
Woodhill House. Copyright Colin Walker

The Aberdeenshire Council administration’s budget was approved last Thursday - despite one councillor’s claim that it had been written on something smaller than a “fag packet”.

Members voted in favour of the ruling Conservative, Lib Dem, Independent and Labour coalition budget of £512 million to support the delivery of local services.

Within the budget, officers had identified an underspend of £19.531 million - the second in two years - which was the main subject of discussion and debate. It was also revealed that no services would face cuts.

Leader of the council, Jim Gifford, told members that an ongoing staffing crisis was the major contributing factor to the surplus in funds.

“One of the main reasons for the positive financial position is due to staff levels,” he said.

“This is because Aberdeenshire Council is facing the same recruitment issues as most employees in the North-east - there is a lack of available and suitably skilled people.”

Councillors voted 37-29 in favour of the Aberdeenshire Alliance budget over the SNP amendment, with two no votes.

Councillors agreed to invest £4.8 million for innovation, looking at ways to encourage people to work for the council and relocate to Aberdeenshire as well as finding ways to reduce energy consumption, helping to deal with energy price fluctuations.

£4 million was earmarked for community, culture and tourism for further investment in towns and villages, economic development and preventative spending. This provides almost £2 million of funding for projects previously identified by local communities, and for investment in placemaking.

Councillors agreed to set aside £10 million for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, to reduce the impact on the council’s budget in the long term.

£731,000 was also set aside for investment in grounds and verge maintenance and street cleaning, which is expected to improve the local environment and continue the focus on making Aberdeenshire a better place to live.

As part of the considerations, councillors agreed to freeze council tax again in 2013/14, maintain teacher numbers in line with pupil numbers and to secure places for all probationers who require one under the teacher induction scheme.

However, opposition leaders accused the administration of making the plans too broad and lacking specific details throughout the debate.

Councillor Martin Ford, leader of the Democratic Independent Green Group, said: “There is a comprehensive lack of detail in the adminstartion’s budget.

“I will not accuse the administration of preparing their budget on the back of a fag packet - they clearly did not need something anywhere near that big.”

The SNP group highlighted a need for £2 million funding towards flood prevention works in towns such as Stonehaven, which were damaged by torrential rain in December. However, the plans were not included in the Alliance proposals.

Stonehaven and Lower Deeside councillor, Graeme Clark, said: “There is real anger in Stonehaven from residents who have been flooded twice in three years.

“They need to be taken seriously.”

The SNP also proposed investment in initiatives to support a review of janitorial services, staff recruitment and £3 million to support 40 affordable houses. He welcomed proposals to reverse cuts to Pupil Support Assistants and the proposals to invest in the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.

Cllr Fergus Hood, speaking on behalf of the SNP Group, said: “We are supporting the proposals for the living wage of £7.50 per hour payable from 1st April 2013 and for an end to the two year pay freeze with a 1% salary increase.”