Last week fellow councillors and I voted to approve the Aberdeen City Budget for 2017/18. After months of tireless work by officers of the Council and elected members, it is satisfying to have our plans agreed and to be in a position to start implementing them.
Understandably, given the impact it has on households, the decision not to increase council tax rates was a major focus. I view it as the right thing to do in the face of the continuing economic challenges we face in the north-east, although those with properties in bands E to H will still be the subject of rises due to changes being implemented nationally after being passed by the Scottish Parliament.
In my budget speech I majored on many of the potential savings or rises we decided not to implement. Instead we opted to preserve the music service in schools, maintain library provision, retain public toilets, freeze parking charges and focus on supporting residents and businesses.
It is important we also highlight the action the Council is taking and the investment that will be made in the year ahead, not least in support of the next generation.
At the top of that list is the £976,000 we have earmarked to provide additional Pupil Support Assistants for schools throughout the city.
Around 60 posts will be created and I know this significant additional resource will be valuable as the good work already being done in classrooms is built upon. PSAs have an important part to play within our schools and the increase in numbers is recognition of the emphasis Aberdeen City Council is placing on increasing staff resource despite the financial pressures we face as a local authority.
In and out of school, it is important we give the young people of Aberdeen the best possible start in life. Education is clearly vital, but recreation shouldn’t be ignored.
With that in mind, our budget for the new financial year also includes £826,000 allocated to accelerating the programme of playpark upgrades. This sum will enable the next 20 projects to be completed in 2017/18 and provide a real boost to those communities, providing safe and stimulating environments for children.
The capital programme will bring further progress on key projects, including the City Centre Masterplan and development of the new Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. Investment in roads infrastructure remains a priority, with a Council contribution of a further £12.5m in the forthcoming financial year towards the construction of the AWPR in addition to £3.25m being spent on the ongoing work on the Berryden Corridor, £2.5m allocated to tackling potholes and £11.2m to other road and pavement improvements.
Significant investment in the school estate includes £6m for the Centre of Excellence and £9m for the new Stoneywood primary school. In environmental operations, the capital budget includes £4.6m for the next phase of the Energy from Waste project and a £1m investment in waste collection whilst in the digital sphere a total of £3.5m across the five year programme has been allocated to projects with an emphasis on improving the city’s infrastructure to enable the Council to compete on the global stage.
Investing in education: Cllr Angela Taylor at the turf cutting for the new Stoneywood School (left), Cllr Willie Young performing the official opening of Greenbrae School (top right) extension and new Lochside Academy head teacher Neil Hendry with Cllr Taylor and Director of Education and Children’s Services Gayle Gorman.
As I touched upon, the budget process is a long and painstaking exercise – but when all is said and agreed, it has at its heart the aim of improving the quality of life for residents young and old.
The Local Outcome Improvement Plan is a major part of that, empowering communities and all residents to make decisions on the things that make the biggest difference to them on a day to day basis.
Although the year ahead was the focus of last Wednesday’s meeting, the need to plan for the long term was also not ignored.
Behind all of the numbers and decisions in our latest budget is a determination to look forward to the great things that can be achieved.