Aberdeenshire councillors have been debating the future of public services and the shape of things to come.
In the official pre-budget statement, co-leader Richard Thomson outlined the priorities for the coming year and set out the next steps.
He set the scene by highlighting the need to continue to deliver quality services in the most efficient way possible. There was recognition of the crucial role the council plays in leading in difficult times; working with communities to identify where interventions can have the greatest impact; and how successes can be attributed through partnerships with other agencies in delivering real, tangible differences across Aberdeenshire.
He went on to focus on priorities: On housing, he said: “Over the course of the five year period over two-and-a-half thousand homes will be delivered across Aberdeenshire. That’s 1,903 for social rent; 284 for mid-market rent; and 329 for low cost shared equity.”
On the City Region Deal he said: “The ink is barely dry on the hugely exciting City Region Deal – which will deliver a comprehensive programme of regeneration covering the themes of innovation, digital and infrastructure – this will include. However we must also balance the investment in the City Region Deal by recognising the importance of investment in our towns and villages which may not feel the direct impact and regeneration action plans are in place for four towns, as already approved by committee.”
It has been agreed that Banff will receive £710,000; Macduff £901,000; Peterhead £1.566m and Fraserburgh £1,137m.
On the capital plan he said “We are continuing the programme of investment in our school estate, recognising the importance of modern learning facilities that inspire and encourage young people in their studies. An assessment study into a new school campus in Peterhead has been undertaken. Next steps are the development of a business case, along with extensive stakeholder engagement.
“This is part of our ambitious Capital Plan where we are committed to investing £100m each year on building and refurbishing a range of council buildings, including schools, leisure facilities and care homes; and investing in infrastructure.”
He touched briefly on the plans for a new HQ for Aberdeenshire Council by confirming the ambition of the administration to developing our plans for a new civic home for the council. A decision on this has been deferred until a working group can fully interrogate the plans. They are due to report initial findings back to Full Council in January.
Looking ahead he had a strong message. On budgets he said: “2017/18 is looking to be just as challenging as past years in terms of our budget settlement. We are living in challenging times – increasing pressure across all our services; a growing and ageing population, rising costs and reducing settlements from the Government. That means that there is an element of risk in our budget setting process, but I am confident in the work that we have undertaken to prepare this organisation to meet the financial challenges head on and we are in a good place to respond to whatever comes our way.”
“I am also confident that our workforce will once again demonstrate their willingness to work with us to continue to deliver vital local public services, finding new and innovative ways to identify savings and deliver services for less.”
He wrapped up by encouraging residents to participate in the soon-to- be-launched budget engagement process. He stressed the importance of getting the views of each and every community to feed into the budget setting process. A consultation will follow which will explain the council tax setting process, the pressures already existing on council services, an explanation of the capital plan and direction for major projects as well as some ideas for how Aberdeenshire Council may do things differently.
Members will meet again in February to finalise budgets and set council tax rates for the coming year.