Councillors set to debate 100 day pledge proposals

A range of schemes have been put forward for investment under the Aberdeenshire Alliance 100 day pledge.

Proposals to spend up to £13 million savings from 2011/12 will be put forward for consideration to councillors at Thursday’s meeting of Policy & Resources Committee.

But the SNP claims that the Alliance Administration should not “obscure the fact” that these monies are only available as a result of the previous council administration’s failure to deliver on their planned budget.

In early June, the Aberdeenshire Alliance launched its vision for the next five years and set out six key areas for development which would receive a one-off cash investment to boost activity.

The Alliance made a 100 day pledge to consider plans for delivering the six areas, with a particular focus on bringing forward proposals which are planned for later years.

The proposals focus on six key areas of investing in towns and villages; providing assistance to small businesses; boosting tourism and hospitality industries; increasing pre-school and nursery provision; increasing care at home services for older people; and accelerating plans to improve roads, provide affordable housing and replacing schools and care homes.

Local area committees, working alongside communities and partners, have put forward 68 schemes worth £5.8 million for investing in towns and villages.

The allocation for this area was £3 million.

Schemes include a community hall in St Combs, town centre improvements to Fraserburgh, Macduff and Banff, renovation of the Alford Heritage Centre, Newmachar Hall, upgrades to the Balmedie Leisure Centre and the renovation of the Stonehaven Clock Tower.

Proposals to assist small businesses include an independent study on the whitefish processing sector, a one-stop advice and information telephone number for all business enquiries, an apprenticeship scheme in agriculture and a power cable into Fraserburgh Harbour to support future business growth.

Schemes have also been put forward to support the tourism and hospitality industry including a tourism campaign for Aberdeenshire, investment in walking paths including the Deeside Way, the Formartine and Buchan Way and coastal paths, and the creation of a place brand for Aberdeenshire.

The other key priority areas of increasing pre-school and nursery provision, increasing care at home services for older people andaccelerating plans to improve roads, provide affordable housing and replace schools and care homes have all been progressed, following reports to the policy committees.

The new Uryside and Kintore Primary Schools are included in the re-profiled Capital Plan and a new care facility has been brought forward subject to agreement of P&R committee.

Council leader Councillor Jim Gifford said: “The 100 day pledge has enabled us to focus attention and resources on those key areas which we felt would benefit from one-off funding and to bring forward activities that were planned for future years.

“The response from communities has been very positive and has helped us to focus on initiatives and projects that are of the highest priority.”

Deputy leader Councillor Martin Kitts-Hayes added: “We want to develop a reputation as a council that means business, that can understand the needs of local communities and respond by turning that listening into action. We have demonstrated that within just 100 days, we can produce meaningful, well-thought out plans for investment that will make a real difference to our communities and our businesses.”

Central Buchan’s Norman Smith, co-ordinator of the Independents, explained: “We have used clear criteria for setting out those projects with the highest need and this has ensured a fair and consistent process.

“Every community will benefit in some way from the investment and we now look forward to seeing the results.”

But the SNP hit back at the pledge, with shadow council leader Hamish Vernal stating: “Individually and collectively, these projects are very worthy and each of them in their own way will contribute to their local communities. However, we should not let that obscure the fact that these monies are only available as a result of the previous council administration’s failure to deliver on their planned budget.

“Frontline council services were cut to the tune of £28 million last year, which led to a great deal of anguish and distress amongst the old, the vulnerable and the young as sheltered housing wardens were withdrawn or cut-back, classroom assistants were removed, and a range of services were scaled back.

“To then discover on top of this that the council had an underspend of some £25 million at the end of the financial year was simply horrendous and raised serious questions about the budget monitoring processes in place.

“While these projects are welcome in themselves, we shouldn’t lose sight of what has been sacrificed in order to fund them in this way. The plain fact is, the majority of last year’s cuts need not have been made had the council been sufficiently robust in its budget monitoring processes.”

Proposals by SNP councillors at June’s meeting of the Full Council to set up a sub-committee to monitor the council’s budget were voted down by an alliance of Labour, Conservative, Liberal and Independent councillors. Unaligned Independents and Greens backed the plan.

SNP councillors argued that a sub-committee be set up to scrutinise future budgets to avoid a situation arising in the future where essential services were being cut which didn’t actually need to be cut.