Dec 312010

By Cllr Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Council

Decisions by the Westminster and Scottish governments have left Aberdeenshire Council facing its worst budget cuts ever.

For 2011/12, Aberdeenshire Council has no choice but to make cuts in its budget totalling in excess of £30 million. The Council’s funding from the Scottish Government has been reduced and it has had to agree to freeze the Council Tax. In real terms, allowing for inflation, the Council’s Government grant has been cut by more than five per cent

In fact, Aberdeenshire Council’s position is worse than previously thought.

Unexpectedly, just before Christmas, the Scottish Government advised Aberdeenshire Council that the grant figure it had announced for the Council was wrong. Instead of a grant of £426.988 million for 2011/12, Aberdeenshire would be getting more than half a million pounds less, £426.477 million. The Council will have to cut a further £511,000 from its revenue budget for 2011/12 as a result of the Scottish Government’s revision of its grant funding figures.

There is nothing Aberdeenshire Council can do about the level of funding the Scottish Government decides it is to get, and nothing the Council can do about what will come from its other main source of income, the Council Tax (see: Council Tax freeze and many cuts decided, Aberdeen Voice, 26 November 2010).

The task for Aberdeenshire Council is to minimise the impact of the loss of income it now faces on the public services the Council

The bulk of the saving required in the 2011/12 revenue budget was decided at the full council meeting on 25 November when cuts and efficiencies totalling almost £27 million were voted through by the Council’s Liberal Democrat/Conservative administration.

I am sure many people do not yet realise how the cuts that have been decided will affect them. Standing in the middle of Newmachar the other day, by the village hall, the breadth of the impact of the cuts really came home to me.

I am appalled at what is being done to really important services – and angry because at least the worst of the cuts could so easily have been avoided

Behind me, in the hall car park, were the recycling skips. A cut of £350,000 in spending on information about and promotion of recycling was one of the administration’s budget cuts voted through on 25 November. Optimistically, the administration’s budget for 2012/13 also includes a £500,000 ‘efficiency saving’ achieved through a reduction in the amount of recyclable material going to landfill.

It seems unlikely, to say the least, that cutting virtually the entire budget dedicated to informing people about the importance of recycling will lead the following year to such a dramatic improvement in the recycling rate.

Newmachar village hall is in School Road, a lit street with, by the village hall, a pavement on one side. In the 2011/12 budget, spending on footway maintenance has been cut by £200,000 and the amount allocated to installing dropped kerbs reduced by 50 per cent. Over £100,000 has been docked from spending on testing and maintaining street lights.

Next to the village hall is New Machar School. Provision of classroom assistants in primary schools is to be significantly reduced over the next two years. Spending on classroom assistants is to be cut by 50 per cent (£1.3 million) during 2011 to 2013 and by a further £0.53 million in later years. Spending on primary visiting specialists will be reduced by £200,000 in 2011/12. School devolved budgets are to be cut.

On the opposite side of the road from the village hall is a grass verge on which is sited a dog-waste bin. The administration’s cuts voted through on 25 November include reducing the funding for dog wardens by a third in 2012/13. In 2011/12, £200,000 is to be saved by reducing grass-verge cutting. The budget for village orderlies – a much appreciated service that certainly helped keep towns and villages tidy through the summer – has been cut completely from next year.

Behind the verge opposite the village hall is the cemetery. Spending on grounds maintenance in burial grounds is to be reduced by £130,000 in 2011/12.

Beyond the cemetery is the play park. Spending on maintenance in parks and open spaces is also to be reduced by £130,000 in 2011/12.

Next to the play park is the library. A saving of £80,000 is to be made in 2011/12 by reducing the opening hours of some Aberdeenshire libraries.

Then there are the cuts that don’t show – unless you are a person who depends on the service that is being cut.

I am appalled at what is being done to really important services – and angry because at least the worst of the cuts could so easily have been avoided, had the Scottish Government allowed councils the freedom to decide on their own Council Tax. A two per cent increase in the Council Tax in Aberdeenshire, that is 44 pence per week for a Band D property, would bring in £2.4 million that could be spent on schools or social work. For the cost of a cheap bar of chocolate, cuts to classroom assistants or social care for children could have been avoided.

The Council still has to find around a further £4 million of savings to balance its budget for 2011/12. I hope the administration will work constructively with opposition councillors through the rest of the budget process to minimise the impact of these further cuts on the most crucial Council services.