Aberdeenshire Council has set its budget for 2015/16 which includes a commitment to maintain teacher numbers, provide places for all probationers who require one under the teacher induction scheme and a Council Tax freeze for the eighth consecutive year. Councillors also identified ways to plug a £3.6 million gap in the budget through a reductions in budgets, savings and increased charges for some services.
Council Leader Jim Gifford set out the Administration’s proposals to balance the budget. He said
In order to close this gap, choices have to be made, responsible choices that still allow services to be delivered to Aberdeenshire residents.
The proposals included reducing a planned increase to the road maintenance budget by £700,000. On top of a capital expenditure on roads of £9million and a forecast £750,000 reserve fund, this will result in a total package of spending on Aberdeenshire roads in 2015/16 of £27 million.
Winter maintenance will be reduced by £1 million compared to the original proposed budget for 2015/16, with a commitment from the council to provide access to a special reserve budget of £1.5million if required.
In the current year, a budget pressure of £5.4 million has been identified to cope with increasing demand on services for adults and elderly residents. An additional £4 million will be allocated in 2015/16 to help with these pressures, resulting in savings of £1.4 million to be made from the Communities budget.
Aberdeenshire Council is one of the lowest charging councils in Scotland for burial charges and this will be addressed through increased charges for 2015/16 so charges better reflect the cost of the services provided. There will also be increases to client contributions to home care, day care, supported living and very sheltered housing, taking into consideration an individual’s ability to pay. £490,000 additional income will be generated as a result of these increased charges.
Savings of £75,000 will be made through savings in electricity as a result of the conversion of standard street lights to LED lights.
Alternative proposals were presented by the Scottish National Party and the Democratic Independent and Green Group.
Cllr Hamish Vernal introduced the alternative budget from the SNP, and called on councillors to work together in future to try to secure a joint budget given the similarity of proposals coming from his group.
The SNP budget proposals also included reductions to the winter maintenance budget, a challenge to the Communities directorate to reduce the budget pressures facing services for adults and older people and to explore alternative delivery models to reduce the cost of service delivery. Their budget strategy included a review of all budgets to deliver key outcomes, economic development focused on jobs and an increased provision of affordable housing and a future approach based on community engagement, empowerment and investment in road safety.
The DIGGs presented a budget which included proposals to reduce budgets in social care, roads maintenance, working balances, councillor travel, ACSEF and energy conservation. They proposed savings and additional income to be generated through renewable energy initiatives.
The council Administration budget was supported by 35 votes, 26 votes for the SNP budget and 2 no votes after the DIGG budget was defeated.
Council leader Jim Gifford warned of tough times ahead, as the council addresses an expected £50 million reduction in Government grant over the next five years. Despite receiving no indicative budget for the future from the Scottish Government, councillors agreed provisional budgets for the following four years through to 2020.
Cllr Gifford said
We have made responsible choices in how to balance our budget, and we will continue to do so, albeit the options are becoming increasingly difficult. We are facing an unprecedented reduction in public sector funding over the next few years and radical change and transformation is the only way to maintain quality services to those most in need.
Consultation on the challenges facing the council will take place later in the year to inform the areas where costs could be reduced, services changed or stopped to help balance the books in the future.