Council chiefs have been accused of setting an “impossible deadline” for schools and care homes by telling them they must spend all their budget by this week.
Account managers -including head teachers – across Aberdeen have been told to spend their remaining budget by January 3 to meet rules set by the London Stock Exchange on the council bond according to correspondence seen by the Press and Journal.
A source said an e-mail was sent out at 2.30pm on December 22 – the last day of the school term.
But given the time of year and the number of people off on holiday, it is unlikely any of the account holders will have been able to spend the cash.
In an e-mail seen by the P&J sent to all account holders, the council’s head of finance Steve Whyte warns that only “essential” spending will be allowed after tomorrow.
He says this includes the likes of food and perishables for schools and care homes, “life and limb emergency expenditure” and cleaning materials.
But last night, an administration source insisted the message was to ensure that institutions don’t splash out their remaining budget for the rest of the year just because it is available, and that any underspends would be re-invested back into education.
Mr Whyte’s e-mail explains the council is required to produce its accounts quicker than the statutory deadline to comply with the rules of the London Stock Exchange.
It comes after Aberdeen City Council became the first Scottish authority to issue a bond on the London Stock Exchange last year.
Mr Whyte adds: “As part of the annual audit process, spend incurred will be reviewed and budget holders will be held accountable where the above procedures are not strictly adhered to.
“For the avoidance of doubt, no renewal or extension of contracts should be entered into, all non-essential spend/non-contractual spend should be incurred without the authorisation of the corporate management team (requested through myself – you will also be required to attend the meeting to present your case). There are no exceptions to this rule.”
But one whistleblower claimed: “Due to the timing it is impossible for schools, and many other departments, to spend their funds as the financial infrastructure is not in place for them to do so over the festive period.
“In addition to the third change of budget deadline, this will leave many schools without essential teaching supplies for the year ahead.
“This is seen by headteachers as a deliberate attempt to prevent schools and other departments from spending funds and allowing a larger clawback by the city council.”
Opposition councillor Martin Greig said the e-mail showed the ruling administration had its priorities wrong and should be focusing on delivering and protecting basic council services, rather than “grand projects” like the Broad Street redevelopment.
He added: “The unrealistic timescale for spending funds adds even more unnecessary pressures onto schools which are doing their best to educate and care for young people. The council should be doing what it can to help head teachers and yet is giving them impossible challenges such as this.”
And Alex Nicoll, the SNP group’s finance spokesman, said the decision was a reflection on the recent council shake-up, which has removed directors of services in favour of a more corporate model in a cost-cutting move.
He said: “It’s important that our headteachers have the flexibility and autonomy to run their schools effectively and we need to look at how to protect that.
“With the council no longer having a director for education and plans to not even have a post at chief officer level, this is the sort of oversight that we can expect to see a lot more of.”
But a council administration spokesman said: “Education is and remains the number one priority for the administration.”
“We currently spend over £220million of our annual budget on education and children services. The largest of any departmental expenditure.
“Across all departments, the public will expect that all spending is fully audited and all budget holders held accountable.
“The head of finance is obligated to ensure this is carried out.
“As the only local authority facing a cut in our budget from in the upcoming year, all services are under huge pressure to ensure value for the taxpayer in increasingly difficult circumstances.”