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Plans to pull funding for rural Aberdeenshire groups described as ‘wrecking ball’ to communities

Simon Blackett, Marr Area Partnership chairman
Simon Blackett, Marr Area Partnership chairman

Irreplaceable local services across Aberdeenshire face losing their funding under “dangerous” council plans that could threaten their existence, community leaders have said.

Aberdeenshire councillors will meet later this week to discuss pulling support from the authority’s six rural partnerships in a move to save £200,000 a year.

The groups – covering Banffshire, Buchan, Garioch, Kincardineshire, Marr and Formartine – have been in operation since the 1990s and work with staff and volunteers to provide the likes of social care, community transport and social clubs.

Each receives just under £34,000 annually but, due to budget pressures, plans have been tabled to gradually slash this to zero over the next three years.

Aberdeenshire Council is in the midst of looking at options to save up to £60 million and balance its books and says it will continue to support the groups in the future to “diversify their income streams” and find cash elsewhere.

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But chairman of the Marr Area Partnership, Simon Blackett, says putting organisations like his in the firing line is “short-sighted”.

“We have been operating for many years with an exceptionally good relationship with local communities,” he said.

“We are cost-effective, as we engage with volunteers, and we can help people out in so many ways – particularly during the pandemic when jobs, livelihoods and wellbeing are affected.”

The organisation supports groups for breastfeeding mothers, parents of children with autism, a curling club and community cinema.

It also backed the establishment of a scheme to provide carers for vulnerable people and provides guidance for others looking to set up their own groups to help solve issues including food poverty and affordable housing.

Mr Blackett added: “This is exactly why they are going to need people on the ground in these communities to help.

“We quite understand savings have to be made but we don’t think this is the best place for them.

“It seems an easy way of cutting a bit of money, but the council will not be in a position to provide any of the services that we do.

“It also means the experienced staff will start looking for other jobs and the end may come even quicker than expected.”

Partnership board member Bill Slee branded the move “dangerous” and said it was like taking “a wrecking ball” to the agency with “perhaps the greatest capacity to stave off the worst effects of the pending crisis”.

He added: “We have consistently been told by council employees that our two part-time project officers deliver outstanding service to our area at a fraction of the cost that would be entailed if the service was delivered from within the council.

“Yet, at a time of crisis, those who can best crew the lifeboat are in danger of getting thrown overboard.

“The need at the moment for these services is far greater than it has ever been before, looking post-Covid and at our economic recovery.

“We want to be able to support these groups and nurture them and get them to the point of picking up some of the slack from the financial difficulties we will face over the next few years.”

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