Aberdeenshire councillors have set out their aspirations for the 2016/17 budget prior to the formal budget setting meeting in February. They also announced a major engagement programme and called on everyone with an interest in local services across Aberdeenshire to have their say on the council’s spending plans.
In a change to the usual process of budget setting, Co-Leader Cllr Richard Thomson gave a pre-budget speech, setting out the Administration’s priorities and the proposals for balancing the books, given an anticipated £18m pressure on next year’s budget.
It is our ambition to deliver a programme of housing investment; working with Housing Associations, private developers, and leveraging new public sector funding to make a significant contribution to the provision of affordable housing in Aberdeenshire.
We will deliver a comprehensive programme of regeneration – maximising the benefits of the City Region Deal, whilst also putting in place a strategy that supports investment in our towns and villages which may not have the same direct impact from the City Region Deal.
He also announced that a business case was being developed for investment in a new school campus in Peterhead, and that the council would continue to find new ways to maximise the use of technology to support more flexible use of the office estate. As part of this, he said that the council would consider the future of the council’s current headquarters, Woodhill House in Aberdeen.
Cllr Thomson set out the Administration’s proposals for how they would deliver £18m savings in order to balance the books. He suggested that around half could be found through a range of measures including improved contract management of supplies and services, shared services with other local authorities and efficiencies in business support.
He also indicated that savings could be made through new approaches to waste management, a more cohesive council-wide transport strategy, increased income and better use of the office estate.
He announced that a major budget engagement programme would be launched and called on everyone who lives and works in Aberdeenshire to take part.
We want to hear from everyone in Aberdeenshire as the decisions we take in February will affect us all. This is your chance to make your views known on the proposals we have set out. Councillors are here to represent your views on the services that matter most to you and want to hear from you.
We will launch the engagement process shortly and call on residents young and old, our council employees, and people who work in Aberdeenshire even if they pay council tax elsewhere, to get involved. You experience our services every day, you have ideas and suggestions about how we can deliver savings and make improvements to services. This is your chance to tell us what you think.
Leader of the Aberdeenshire Alliance Cllr Jim Gifford explained that the Opposition would focus on three key pillars of early intervention, demographics and stronger communities. He recognised the importance of continuing the programme of delivering efficiencies and called on the council to identify areas that regularly underspend so budgets can be re-balanced.
He called for Aberdeenshire Council to get its fair share of Government funding and to lift the freeze on council tax.
We have to look at raising income in other ways. We must follow the advice from Audit Scotland and Scrutiny and Audit Committee and make sure we are charging where appropriate for services and that we are charging enough.
We will continue to support our ambitious Capital Plan and ensure it is delivered and continues to be delivered. The asset management plan which is well underway will ensure that we have the best possible facilities, in the best places from which to deliver our services.
Further proposals were put forward by the Democratic Independent and Green Group who recognised that the focus would be on the delivery of savings.
Cllr Martin Ford put forward a draft budget indicating where savings could be made. These include £4m on use of underspends; £2m on a reduced working balance; £1.2m on loan financing costs; savings from comfort partnerships, lower energy costs, income from renewables, investment in LED replacement street lights, a cut to ACSEF funding and revisions to car parking charges.
He also indicated that efficiency savings could be delivered across the council totalling almost £10m.
We welcome the improved budget process and engagement which we have been calling for for years and was a condition of our agreement with the new Administration. We are committed to protecting key public services like education and social services and our focus should be on making our services as efficient as possible. Whilst we note that we must find savings of £17.5m next year, we will also be faced with further savings of £36m over the next three following years.
All councillors agreed that the budget decisions should be informed by the residents and employees of Aberdeenshire. A major programme of engagement was agreed and will be launched shortly.
The feedback from the engagement process will be provided to councillors to help inform their decisions when setting the 2016/17 budget for the council in February 2016.