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Aberdeenshire’s councillors unite in calling for more cash-raising powers from Scottish Government

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Aberdeenshire’s finance chiefs have made repeated calls for more powers to be devolved to local government.

The authority has in the region of £20million of savings it has to make over the next year in order to balance the books.

Both the administration and opposition are yet to reveal their plans for closing the funding gap.

However, both sides of the chamber are in agreement that local authorities should have more control over their finances.

Council leader Jim Gifford said he was firmly behind the Greens’ push for more cash-raising powers for councils.

He said: “What we have been pushing for through the Cosla negotations is exactly that – more flexibility, more discretion over making more money.

“Exactly what that means in practice remains to be seen but that is what we have been asking for.

“We want a better pot of cash than we are getting currently because there’s just not enough money there.

“We want more flexibility to raise and keep taxes locally, we think things like business rates should be managed in this way.”

And he also said he shared Aberdeenshire West Tory Alexander Burnett’s concerns about income tax rises hitting the region hardest.

“There is only one pot of money and if you are extracting more from it nationally it’s hard to get more locally,” he said.

“If you are asking people to pay more money in income tax then it becomes harder for us to charge more for the services we provide, for example access to sports facilities.”

Meanwhile, Richard Thomson, the leader of the SNP-Labour opposition group, said it was “disappointing” a consensus had not been reached nationally.

And while he acknowledged the benefits of ring-fencing, he also warned that it could be to the detriment of other services that needed funding.

He said: “While ring-fenced funding leads to a real focus in those areas being ring-fenced, the risk is that it’s at the expense of other areas of council services. In my view, we need to be focusing on outcomes more rather than inputs – the best way to do that is to have greater local discretion over how to deliver on national priorities.

“While we’ve heard plenty from the SNP’s political opponents about the need to have more resources in the local government settlement for Aberdeenshire, there has been a complete lack of honesty about from where that extra resource should be taken.

“Continued Westminster austerity and the threat of a no-deal Brexit means that there is no magic money tree out there. Frankly, if Conservative or Lib Dem councillors want to will the end of more money for local government, they need to also will the means. They should be urging their MSP colleagues to stop their posturing over the budget, to face up to some tough choices of their own and engage seriously in talks.”

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