Earlier this month the full Council met to set the 2018/19 budget. Every year the task becomes more difficult as we attempt to balance increasing demand for our services with reduced funding.
Since being elected in 2007 I’ve attended 11 budget meetings. At each of those meetings the fact Aberdeen is the lowest funded Council in Scotland has been highlighted. I consider myself an optimist, but I fear the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.
The north-east is well known for its resilience, particularly in the face of adversity and this month Aberdeen City Council has been able to set a budget that will maintain vital services and expand provision in key areas.
This has been possible because as a local authority we have demonstrated we are not afraid to adopt new ways of working in the face of ever reducing budgets – transforming the way the organisation operates is the key to protecting those we serve and to help the people and city prosper.
I spoke in the chamber on Tuesday about my pride in the Council’s anti-poverty strategy, Towards a Fairer Aberdeen That Prospers for All.
This strategy is aligned to the Local Outcome Improvement Plan (LOIP), which provides the foundation for tackling poverty and inequality across the city.
The 2018/19 budget is framed by those objectives and brings forwards measures to tackle issues around income maximisation, child poverty, fuel poverty, food poverty, housing and health inequalities.
A vast range of initiatives were set out in the budget and existing commitments have been backed with the necessary finance to move them forward. Importantly, we also opted against a rise in general fees and charges. That would have presented a quick win in terms of generating revenue, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
Given the constraints we work under a 3% rise in Council Tax was agreed, following on from last year’s freeze. We have opted to ring-fence 40% of the revenue generated by that Council Tax increase for use in priority areas.
This includes £50,000 to roll-out the provision of free meals and activities to children in school holidays, a new £40,000 project for the free distribution of sanitary products in our schools to tackle period poverty, £100,000 of funding for two additional youth counsellors to help meet demand for mental health support and early intervention give just a small flavour of the measures agreed on March 6.
That ring-fenced funding, totalling £1.351m, will also be used to set up a £75,000 Co-operative Business Development fund to support small businesses and their staff to explore new ways of working in the future as well as a £132,000 commitment to supported public transport. A total of £951,000 has been earmarked to continue the programme of adding 60 Pupil Support Assistants to our school staff.
Officers have also been instructed to explore options for a self-financing programme to build 2,000 new council homes whilst significant ongoing investment in our existing housing stock has also been approved this week.
New community facilities, schools and major infrastructure improvements are at the heart of the capital programme – as well as an additional £10m over five years for roads maintenance.
In total a budgeted spend of over £950m was set – a figure which tell the story of the scale of the Council operation.
The single most important thing is that this budget is used to meet the very clear priorities we have in improving the lives of the people of Aberdeen, enhancing the city and ensuring it is a place we can continue to be proud of, driving economic growth and embracing new technology to accomplish those goals.
The budget set makes strong commitments in all of those areas and as a Council we are determined to continue to deliver on them.
Cllr Jenny Laing