Aberdeenshire Council will meet to set its Budget for the coming financial year on Thursday, February 8.
The Administration, formed of Scottish Conservative, Scottish Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, will be setting out a balanced budget and fixing the levels of Council Tax for the coming financial year at the meeting.
The Council consulted widely on its priorities, based on the Administration’s manifesto, following the elections in May. Setting the Budget is the next step in the process, so that the available resources can be best used to deliver those policies and priorities.
Council leader Jim Gifford said: “It is not an easy time for local government and certainly not an easy time for Aberdeenshire. The Scottish Government’s draft budget means that we will continue to be the 3rd lowest funded council in Scotland at a time when we are facing serious pressures, increasing demand for services and a local economy that is not in a good place.
“For all the positive talk from the Finance Secretary, we are facing a cut in cash terms of almost £3m. In addition we have identified over £20m of budgetary pressures that have to be addressed, ranging from inflation, increased demand for many of the services we provide and a population in Aberdeenshire that is continuing to grow.
“Derek Mackay has not re-imposed the council tax freeze but has again limited Council Tax increases to 3%. His budget settlement makes the assumption that all councils will increase council tax by 3% and has reduced the allocation to local government accordingly.
“We will have to decide whether to increase council tax or make yet further savings to plug the gap that has been created for us. It is what is known as being between a rock and a hard place.”
Deputy Leader of the Council Peter Argyle added: “It is worth noting that a 1% increase in council tax would generate £1.3m but we are facing budget pressures of over £20m as well as the cuts to our grant settlement from the Scottish Government. We know the council will receive less income, from planning fees for example, as a result of the down turn in the Aberdeenshire economy.
“To add to the challenge the Scottish Government has lifted the public sector pay cap but is not providing any additional funding to local government to meet the cost of this policy. The unions have now submitted a claim for a 6.5% pay rise.
“Preparing a balanced budget in these circumstances is a real and growing challenge; we are having to look closely at everything the council does. We will base decisions on our 11 Priorities so that we can provide the best possible services to our communities.”
Cllr Norman Smith, Independent Group Coordinator added: “We are working hard as an Administration to resolve these complex issues and are committed to delivering our joint manifesto despite the growing challenges we face.
“There are no easy answers; only difficult decisions. We will be working very hard over the next few weeks to finalise the details of our budget.”