Another surplus saved in new Shire council budget

ABERDEENSHIRE Council has set its budget for 2013/14, agreeing a range of new investments in key priorities.

Councillors agreed a budget of £512 million to support the delivery of important local services.

Within the budget, officers had identified a surplus of £19.531 million which was the main subject of discussion and debate.

As part of the considerations councillors agreed to freeze council tax again in 2013/14, maintain teacher numbers in line with pupil numbers and to secure places for all probationers who require one under the teacher induction scheme.

Councillors agreed to invest £4.8 million for innovation, looking at ways to encourage people to work for the council and relocate to Aberdeenshire as well as finding ways to reduce energy consumption, helping to deal with energy price fluctuations.

£4 million was earmarked for community, culture and tourism for further investment in towns and villages, economic development and preventative spending. This provides almost £2 million of funding for projects previously identified by local communities, and for investment in placemaking.

Councillors agreed to set aside £10 million for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, to reduce the impact on the council’s budget in the long term.

£731,000 was also set aside for investment in grounds and verge maintenance and street cleaning, which is expected to improve the local environment and continue the focus on making Aberdeenshire a better place to live.

Council leader Jim Gifford acknowledged that greater financial savings had been made than were budgeted for, but was keen to explain that a relatively healthy cashflow position, coupled with continuing low interest rates had positively impacted on the position.

He advised that the local labour market was also having an impact, with some services struggling to recruit to posts, resulting in further savings.

He said that the proposals from the Aberdeenshire Alliance, the Administration of Aberdeenshire Council, were borne from the feedback gathered during the programme of community engagement events, and thanked residents for their input into the process.

He noted that many of the priorities of different political parties were very similar, and stated his commitment to considering suggestions and ideas put forward to be incorporated in the wider work of the council.

Cllr Martin Kitts-Hayes seconded the budget proposals of the Aberdeenshire Alliance and said: “This budget combines a no nonsense common sense approach to financial planning together with a longer term strategic view on future service delivery.”

The decision was reached following debate by councillors, where alternative proposals were put forward by the SNP Group and the Democratic Independent and Green Group.

Cllr Fergus Hood, speaking on behalf of the SNP Group, put forward proposals reflecting their four main budget priorities, recommending £2 million investment in a flood alleviation scheme, reversal of cuts to pupil support assistants, investment in regeneration and economic development, the AWPR and roads maintenance.

The SNP also proposed investment in initiatives to support a review of janitorial services, staff recruitment and £3 million to support 40 affordable houses. He welcomed proposals to reverse cuts to Pupil Support Assistants and the proposals to invest in the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.

He said: “We are supporting the proposals for the living wage of £7.50 per hour payable from 1st April 2013 and for an end to the two year pay freeze with a 1% salary increase.” The SNP budget was seconded by Cllr Hamish Vernal who thanked officers for their work.

Cllr Martin Ford, for the Democratic Independent and Green Group, put forward a series of proposals which included a £10 million investment in renewable energy and a series of suggestions for investing in education and lifelong learning, climate change and transport initiatives, social work and for pay and grading improvements for staff.

Following a suggestion by Cllr Dave Stewart, it was agreed to consider further funding for area top-up budgets, to support activities for the voluntary sector.

Councillors widely acknowledged the work of officers across all areas of the council, for supporting the budget setting process and for their efforts in delivering important local services for the residents of Aberdeenshire.

The budget proposal from the Democratic Independent and Green Group was defeated and councillors went on to vote between the proposals of the Administration and the SNP Group proposals.

The budget of the Administration of Aberdeenshire Council was agreed - 37 votes to 29, with two abstentions.