Half-billion budget approved

Millo was closed on Friday due to flood damage
Millo was closed on Friday due to flood damage

Aberdeenshire councillors have come together to agree a budget of more than half a billion pounds for the next financial year.

In an unusual move, the £517 million sum put forward for 2014/15 by the ruling Aberdeenshire Alliance (made up of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour) was backed by the opposition SNP group.

But members were warned that there were tougher times ahead, with savings to the tune of £49 million needed over the next four years.

A 4.5% increase in council house rent charges from April 1 was also agreed by councillors at last Thursday’s full council meeting in Aberdeen.

The Revenue Budget for 2014/15 is calculated on the basis of a £395.6 million funding deal from the Scottish Government, on the condition that council tax is frozen for the next three years, teacher numbers are maintained in line with pupil numbers and places are secured for probationer teachers.

Key pledges included doubling the amount of affordable housing built withing the next five years and enhancements to North- east road, rail and broadband infrastructure.

Addressing the meeting, council leader Jim Gifford said: “The proposed budget from the Aberdeenshire Alliance isa measured and appropriate response to the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves.

‘‘It reacts to the present while casting a proactive eye to the future and the financial challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.”

SNP group leader, Councillor Hamish Vernal, added: “We are breaking from tradition and I am accepting the clear invitation from the leader to join with the Alliance in finding solutions for the challenges that lie ahead for our council.”

An alternative budget was put forward by the Democratic Independent and Green group but was voted down by 63 to two.

Green Councillor Martin Ford said: “...(we) believe that it is still possible... to invest in improvements to important public services, albeit not on a huge scale.”

North Kincardine Councillor Alison Evison said: “I am very pleased to support this prudent and focussed budget, which is the outcome of detailed partnership working and community engagement.

“We are setting ourselves an important target for the delivery of affordable housing and I trust that we can look to the Scottish Government to support us in this.

“The priority given to regeneration means that equality of opportunity can be progressed across Aberdeenshire.

“Councillor Gifford reassured voluntary groups of continued support. I have been working very closely over the last months with advice agencies, food banks and credit unions as they seek to tackle some of the extensive inequalities and instances of poverty within our communities.

“I know that they are being particularly challenged to support clients coping with welfare reform and would like to see as much appropriate support given to them as possible.

“Important, too, is for the people of Portlethen to see the new school at Hillside featuring strongly in the capital plan.”

The £887 million Capital Plan for 2014 – 27, which paves the way for major new build programmes including schools, care homes and leisure facilities, was also agreed at the full meeting of elected members at Woodhill House Council Chambers.

New community campus facilities in the Mearns, a care home in Stonehaven and a new primary school in Portlethen, are among the major construction projects included.