Council tax freeze ends with 2.5% rise

Aberdeenshire Concil#s headquarters, Woodhill House.
Aberdeenshire Concil#s headquarters, Woodhill House.

Council taxpayers in Aberdeenshire will have to fork out more for their bills for the first time in nearly a decade.

A 2.5% rise was narrowly agreed by the council at its budget meeting last Thursday, ending a prolonged freeze.

The increase adds more than £28 to a Band D property.

Councillors also decided to set aside £3million which could be used to ease the burden of crippling increases in business rates across the region. Following a budget deal agreed with the Greens at Holyrood last week, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay released additinal funding for local authorities, including £8million to Aberdeenshire.

The SNP-Labour Partnership administration’s £540million budget, supporting local services and the delivery of a capital programme, was voted through 33-32.

Council co-leader Alison Evison said: “We must balance our responsibility for the delivery of these services, alongside the very real challenge of dealing with increasing costs, greater pressures on our services and a reducing financial settlement from the Scottish Government.”

Fellow co-leader Richard Thomson, seconding, highighted the concerns of local companies following the recent business rates revaluation.

He said: “We have heard from businesses across Aberdeenshire who will be affected by the rise in business rates.

“We are committed to sustaining businesses in the North-east and will continue to support them in a measured way.”

Councillor Thomson asked officials to bring a report to the March meeting of full council with a detailed scheme for supporting businesses in need and which will consider the impact of the business rates increase in Aberdeenshire.

The opposition Alliance Group put forward an alternative budget which included no rise in council tax over and above the rise implemented by the Scottish Government on Bands E-H.

After the council meeting Liberal Democrat Cllr Ian Mollison said: “The SNP- Labour administration won backing for increasing council tax by just one vote.

“This rise will be in addition to the nationwide increase the Scottish Government is already imposing on bands E-H which affects 57.59% of households in my North Kincardine ward.

“If the arithmetic is correct, householders in Band E will see a rise of 10.2%, Band F 15.3%, G 20.4%, and H 25.5%. At a time of 30,000 job losses in the energy sector in Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen, this is a further blow for hard-pressed residents.”

Leader Jim Gifford called on the council to achieve more savings from within by delivering greater efficiencies and by re-allocating money set aside in reserves.

Councillor Gifford added that there was a lack of certainty around the additional funding promised by Scottish Government and stated that he wouldn’t allocate any of the £8million until the position was confirmed.

Councillor Karen Clark, seconding, called it a “responsible and balanced view of the budget - without inflicting more pain on our residents.”

Councillor Martin Ford welcomed the administration’s budget, in particular focusing on the council tax rise, saying that it would be dishonest for the council to say that it could continue to deliver a high level of services without people contributing to the payment of these.

He also welcomed the extra money being put into youth work, traffic calming and speeding reduction and active travel.