Councillors agreed a budget of over £540million for 2011/12 last week for vital services in Aberdeenshire.
The budget recommendations included balancing the budget by bringing forward savings of £1.7million from 2012/13.
Last week’s budget meeting follows an interim budget announcement in November 2010 where councillors discussed and agreed a package of efficiencies and cuts totalling over £51 million. Despite these savings being identified, further work was required in order to present a balanced budget to council.
In order to address current financial pressures the council’s administration set out three priorities of early intervention, changing demographics and economic development to underpin decision making.
Council Leader Councillor Anne Robertson said: “Early intervention recognises the need to encourage future planning and allocation of resources at an early stage to avoid higher costs later. Economic development is key to the future prosperity of the north east of Scotland. This council recognises the important role it can and does play in supporting the business community, and helping this area meet the current and future economic challenges.”
She added: “Population projections, particularly in the number of elderly, indicate growth rates significantly higher than the Scottish average, and this will be a key challenge for this council in the planning and delivery of services in the future.”
Cllr Robertson also used her speech as an opportunity to allay fears from staff. “I would again like to emphasise that job reductions are a last resort and every effort will be made to minimise these. Officers are currently reviewing existing vacancies, use of agency staff, terms and conditions of service, and levels of overtime and business miles incurred.
“All these factors have the potential to reduce the loss of posts within this council. Of equal importance is the need for pay restraint at a national level.”
The Leader also described the council’s recent series of public engagement events as “extremely encouraging” adding that: “People realise that the council cannot continue to provide the full range of services that it currently does, and the response to communities taking a more active role in service delivery has given me great confidence that we will succeed in minimising the impact of Government spending cuts on our local communities.”
Members approved provisional budgets to 2015 which were calculated using the council’s policy-led format and will also match the period covered by the UK Spending Review, alongside grant forecasts from Scottish Government. Budget pressures have been calculated for 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15 totalling £21million.
Following on from the savings announced in November and brought forward as part of the current budget, councillors agreed with the amendment raised by Cllr Robertson that the Scrutiny and Audit Committee should monitor savings alongside Policy and Resources Committee in the spirit of good governance.
The Leader of the council also announced that £627,000, made up of surplus from savings (£327k) and funds from a latent unadopted roads budget (£300k), be transferred to reserves as a contingency against the council’s financial challenges.
In addition, the area top up budget was reinstated following proposals submitted by the SNP to its current level of £315,000.
Members agreed to the funding announcements by the Leader and vice chairman of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee Councillor Jim Gifford thanked all officers for what he said had been an incredible amount of work to achieve a balanced budget.
In his speech to committee he said he was encouraged by the way in which all members had engaged with officers in reviewing the council’s approach to policy-led budgeting.
“This enabled the council to take decisions regarding the budget last November based on a full and proper understanding of the financial challenges and difficult choices that required to be made.”