Council tax rise and job cuts

Council leader Jim Gifford said it had been 'the hardest budget' to set
Council leader Jim Gifford said it had been 'the hardest budget' to set

Council tax in Aberdeenshire is to rise by 3% as the local authority tries to save £22million from its budget.

The financial plan agreed by a 39-22 vote on Thursday will also see cuts to around 150 council staff as the authority balances its books for the coming year.

Additional cost-saving measures unveiled included the scrapping of 27 subsidised local bus services which will save around £565,000 and a 20p rise on school meal costs.

Council leader Jim Gifford admitted it had been the “the hardest budget” he had ever had to set in more than 12 years as a councillor.

Praising the efforts of all the authority’s staff and services, he questioned why local councils “were always the poor relation” when it came to funding and why councils “bear the brunt” of the savings.

He admitted: “The implications and the changes required to set a balanced budget will be felt across all of our communities.”

The administration maintained that the revenue budget was “not focused on service cuts” but rather on delivering an agreed scope and standard of service within agreed financial limits.

Cllr Gifford stressed that the council remained “totally committed” to meeting its pupil-teacher ratio in schools.

Despite that, it said it could cut upwards of 150 full-time equivalent positions from its total workforce of 15,925 by withdrawing unfilled jobs, vacancies in managerial positions and, potentially, through redundancies.

Following December’s finance settlement announcement by the Scottish Government, Aberdeenshire’s revenue allocation is just over £422million which is some £796,000 above the provisional budgeted expectation.

While councillors heard that the authority’s proposed budget for 2019/20 included a provision for a council tax rise across all bands of 3%, they stopped short of imposing the additional 1.7% available from the Scottish Government’s threshold.

The 3% rise will produce an increased income of £141.815 million for 2019/20.

Afterwards, Labour Councillor Alison Evison said: “I proposed a balanced budget on behalf of the Opposition, which would have delivered on our vision of Aberdeenshire as a welcoming, inclusive place, grounded on fairness and equality.

“As we did last year, we prioritised education for all our young people, knowing that opportunities for our children leads to a stronger future for all.

“Crucially , we sought and received a commitment from directors that our budget would have meant no compulsory redundancies. We regret that the Administration could not today support our ideas based on a sound vision of social justice.”

Councillor Martin Ford of the Democratic Independent and Green Group said its proposed budget would have safeguarded education and social work.

He said: “The council has no choice but to make savings in next year’s budget. But councillors do have a choice about how that is done.

“We know it is possible to avoid cuts to teaching or pupil support assistant posts next year and, for example, to protect local bus services. If all councillors who are opposed to such cuts agree they won’t vote for them, they won’t happen.”

Members of Aberdeenshire UNISON had earlier warned that that proposals to cut staffing posts would have a disastrous impact on staff and services.

Demonstrating as councillors arrived for the budget talks, branch secretary Inez Kirk said: “This will have far-reaching effects on existing staff that are already struggling to carry out their duties in the time that they are paid, because of salami slicing over the past eight years and will inevitably have a knock on effect on services.

“This is a perfect storm of more work, more demands and a rise in personal and work-related stress. Something will have to give.”