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Aberdeen council fees will not increase despite £30m budget gap, leaders say

Councillors Marie Boulton, Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing have already rejected £3.2m in cuts - with £26.2m in savings to find by next week's budget meeting
Councillors Marie Boulton, Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing have already rejected £3.2m in cuts - with £26.2m in savings to find by next week's budget meeting

Leading politicians have ruled out increasing the cost of council services in Aberdeen as they devise a plan to overcome a £30million funding shortfall.

Councillors will meet next week to debate ways of cutting the huge sum from the 2021/22 budget.

They had been urged to consider increasing the cost of services by 3% to raise £100,000, as one way of contributing towards the £30.4m target.

But the group leaders of the Conservative, Aberdeen Labour and independent alliance administration have ruled it out.

Councillors Douglas Lumsden, Jenny Laing and Marie Boulton also committed to accepting a £4.2m Scottish Government grant, equivalent to a 3.26% council tax rise; meaning residents will pay the same as they have this year.

The move does present risk of the need for a greater council tax rise next year though, as there has not been any guarantee the Scottish Government will write the change into its funding formula going forward.

Tory council co-leader Mr Lumsden said: “As part of our budget proposals we have agreed that there will be no increases in fees and charges this year.

“In the middle of a pandemic, it would be ridiculous to ask citizens to pay more for services at this time and I am delighted that due to the administration’s financial stewardship over the last nine years we are in a position to help citizens when they need that help most.”

His Aberdeen Labour co-leader, Mrs Laing, said: “I have been involved in producing the administration’s budget for the last nine years.

“While balancing it gets more challenging each year as a result of underfunding by the Scottish Government, I am proud that our sound financial management has ensured we have funds available to lessen the impact on the people of Aberdeen.”

More questions than answers: administration rules out big cuts but still has to contend with £26m shortfall

Even with the £4.2m grant protecting residents from a council tax rise, the shortfall remains £26.2m.

But already the administration has ruled out clawing back £3.172m through their official’s recommendations.

Other red lines set out by the group include maintaining the cost of school meals and discretionary transport and funding for the poverty-tackling Fairer Aberdeen Fund, ruling out a review of libraries which could have forced closures and rejecting suggested fee increases on cremations and burials.

They also have ruled out making nearly £800,000 by raising the cost of residential parking permits five-fold in some areas of the city, adding another £10 onto the controversial £30 brown bin permit charge and protecting spending on city events and cultural grants.

Cultural events to play ‘significant role’ in Aberdeen’s Covid recovery

Marie Boulton, leader of the independent alliance propping up the minority administration and council culture spokeswoman, said: “As Aberdeen recovers from Covid-19 it is important that the council continues to invest in our city.

“As such I am delighted to announce that there will be no cuts to our cultural offering in our budget.

“As we move towards opening up our city again after Covid we all know culture will play a significant role, not only in the local economy but also in mental wellbeing of our citizens.”

Need to ‘get a grip of enormous council debt’

Opposition SNP group leader Alex Nicoll last night said they “were not ruling anything out”.

He said: “It’s the good folk of Aberdeen who are really feeling the pinch of a triple whammy of the pandemic, Brexit and the oil and gas downturn.

“The area is really needing every bit of support it can get and it is time for Aberdeen City Council to see what we can really do to support the citizenry.

“And the administration really needs to get a grip of the spending undertaken in recent years because the cost is now starting to bear down on us.

“At the end of the day we have to pay our debts, and those debts are absolutely enormous.”

The local authority’s borrowing, to fund new schools as well as so-called “vanity projects” such as the replacement exhibition centre, is approaching £1.3 billion this coming year, and is forecast to reach nearly £1.76bn by 2025/26.

A £4.5m saving is expected to be included in the administration budget, by making use of government flexibility on managing its debt.

Lib Dem group leader Ian Yuill his budget would prioritise education, repairing Aberdeen’s “crumbling” roads and the environment.

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