Difficult choices ahead as budget challenges grow

In little over four weeks, councillors will meet in the chamber to set the 2019/20 budget.

The choices presented to elected members will be difficult, with the scale of the savings required to set a balanced budget increasing to incredibly challenging levels.

Reduced central funding and increased demand leaves Aberdeen City Council facing a gap between income and outgoings in the range of £40million to £50m.

There are a number of variables still to be confirmed, even at this late stage, including our final settlement from the Scottish Government and the national pay award that will impact on our staff costs.

That gap is of course based on no action being taken to address that shortfall – something which is simply not an option. We have a duty to the people and businesses of Aberdeen to set a balanced budget and, of course, a legal duty to do so.

We will do that on 5 March by adopting a range of options put forward by officers to meet the financial target.

The bulk will be accounted for by the innovation which is changing the way the Council does its business. The ambitious transformation programme has accounted for significant savings in 2018/19 and will bring tens of millions of pounds of efficiencies in the years ahead.

Unfortunately, that isn’t enough. Following notice of the indicative grant settlement from the Scottish Government prior to Christmas, the finance team has been able to analyse the numbers for 2019/20 and the gap is growing.

Without increased grant funding, we have to look at alternatives – raising revenue through other means (including fees and charges as well as Council Tax) and reducing expenditure. Options broadly speaking revolve around changing the way we deliver services and which services we deliver as a Council as well as looking at the level of external funding we provide to the many and varied valued organisations we support.

No decisions will be taken until the 5 March meeting but there will undoubtedly be a great deal of deliberation and debate once the finalised budget options are published on the Council’s website, which is likely to be in late February.

As we continue the budget setting process, as Co-Leaders we invited more than 100 representatives of city stakeholders to attend a briefing session today. The attendees came from the public sector, charities, community groups as well as the business community and other important sectors.

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We want to ensure everyone in the city is kept informed of the process as it moves forward and are committed to communicating at regular intervals over the month ahead. Views from residents and groups are welcome and will be taken into account as we plan for this year and future years.

Our primary aim remains to protect the place and people of Aberdeen and to promote inclusive economic growth and we remain confident about delivering a prosperous future for residents and businesses – but now, more than ever, partnership working is essential.

By working closely with public sector, third sector and private sector organisations who share the same vision we will continue to deliver on our commitments.

Cllr Jenny Laing and Cllr Douglas Lumsden