Commenting following Thursday’s meeting of Aberdeenshire Council’s Policy & Resources Committee which discussed projects being put forward as a result of the £25 million underspend by the council, Shadow Leader of the Council Hamish Vernal said: “Individually and collectively, these projects are very worthy and each of them in their own way will contribute to their local communities. However, we should not let that obscure the fact that these monies are only available as a result of the previous council administration’s failure to deliver on their planned budget.
“Frontline council services were cut to the tune of £28 million last year, which led to a great deal of anguish and distress amongst the old, the vulnerable and the young as sheltered housing wardens were withdrawn or cut-back, classroom assistants were removed, and a range of services were scaled back.
“To then discover on top of this that the council had an underspend of some £25 million at the end of the financial year was simply horrendous and raised serious questions about the budget monitoring processes in place.
“While these projects are welcome in themselves, we shouldn’t lose sight of what has been sacrificed in order to fund them in this way. The plain fact is, the majority of last year’s cuts need not have been made had the council been sufficiently robust in its budget monitoring processes.”
Proposals by SNP councillors at June’s meeting of the Full Council to set up a sub-committee to monitor the council’s budget were voted down by an alliance of Labour, Conservative, Liberal and Independent councillors. Unaligned Independents and Greens backed the plan.
The SNP wanted a sub-committee set up to scrutinise budgets to avoid a situation arising in the future where essential services were cut which didn’t actually need to be cut. SNP Finance Spokesperson Fergus Hood called for more robust budget monitoring in light of the report which is projecting another underspend, this time of £12 million.