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Aberdeen City Council budget passed – paving way for £150million boost for beach and city centre

Aberdeen City Council HQ, Marischal College in Broad Street.
Aberdeen City Council's budget has been passed.

Council tax in Aberdeen will be frozen for the next year after councillors agreed the new budget.

Aberdeen City Council met today to discuss how to make £30.4million savings, but ruled out increasing council tax – allowing the authority to take advantage of government funding.

The administration’s budget – which includes a £150million investment package focusing on the city centre and beach – was passed by 22 votes to 19, with four absensions.

The authority will also be continuing with the £100million investment in the city’s school estate, and £23million investment in road improvements on South College Street, and will instruct officers to bring forward timelines for the Berryden corridor.

Aberdeen beach will benefit from a £150million project to better link it to the city centre

‘Beach is a jewel’ for the city

Despite being approved, SNP described the £150m proposals sounded like they had come “off a fag packet”.

Plans could include putting money into a new stadium for Aberdeen FC on the empty Hilton Doubletree hotel, a revamp of the Beach Ballroom and a replacement for the Beach Leisure Centre.

It would also bring improvements to cycling and walking routes between the beach and the city council.

But opponents said they “could not support” taking on debt without knowing what they were spending on.

Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden

Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “The focus will be the city centre and the beach and strengthening the linkage between the two, especially for walking and cycling.

“Aberdeen Beach is a jewel which has not seen any investment for a number of years and we need to work with everyone to reinvent what was one of the most sought-after destinations for staycations in years gone by.

“Our golden sands and connectivity to our city centre will be vital in pumping life back into Aberdeen’s heart.

“We need to ensure we engage with the city about what this could offer going forward.

“I expect officers to be working closely with all businesses within the beach footprint, including Sport Aberdeen and Aberdeen Football Club, as well as the numerous private businesses already operating within the area.

“Similarly, our officers will be updating our city centre masterplan to reflect the new realities of the world – but also to position us to be even more successful in the years ahead.”

SNP group leader Alex Nicoll

Opposition SNP group leader Alex Nicoll said: “We, too, have wanted to progress this and what we need is actual proposals.

“What we have here is something off a fag packet.

“What I would call on is some kind of report to come back for some kind of detail on what these projects might be and what they would potentially cost.”

“I can’t agree simply putting figures over a five-year period that add up to £150m makes sense.”

The decision to freeze council tax, along with fees and charges, means the authority will receive £4.2million from the Scottish Government.

Music services protected – but Dyce library to be relocated and non-teaching vacancies to go

The administration rejected cuts to the music service, and has instructed the chief education officer to conduct a report on how it could use digitalisation to offer a more affordable service to families, extending its reach.

It has also included a £100,000 spend in order to work with partners and community groups towards eradicating food poverty across the city, including a further £90,000 to develop a targeted learning package for those whose employment opportunities have been hardest hit by Covid-19.

However, cuts will also take place to ensure the council can plug its funding gap.

The revenue budget shows that £6million will be saved through total school resource reduced through unused budget flexibility, £4million in non-teaching staff vacancies, £4.5million in the management of debt based on Scottish Government approved fiscal flexibilities, £1.5million around supporting children to remain within their family around reduction in growth in out of authority placements, £200,000 in the ELC expansion team, £25,000 relocating Dyce Library to the community facility, and £10,000 in the reduction of BID levy value.

A further £15,000 is aimed to be saved by increasing the bin store clearance charge to the HRA by £20 and £6,500,000 is included under the revenue budget in one-off grant funding.

Council co-leader Jenny Laing

Aberdeen City Council co-leader Jenny Laing said: “This is a budget I am particularly pleased about.

“It provides support for our most vulnerable, it protects our frontline services, it protects funding for our communities and freezes council tax.

“It invests in both our people and the city of Aberdeen.”

Warnings not to create another ‘golden goose’

However, political opponents made much of the council’s near £1.3 billion borrowing debt, and pointed to it as a reason to price the beach/city centre work before committing to masterplan refresh.

Liberal Democrat Martin Greig told members: “I have concerns about the administration’s plans for city centre and beach development: it’s vague and currently unsound.

“And it’s not clear whether this is intended to be some kind of revenue generating proposal – maybe it is, I don’t know – because the concern is this administration has a very poor record in that area.

“They could perhaps intend to indulge in wasteful and expensive commercial property speculation.

“I don’t know if you want to replicate the Marischal Square experience, which has deteriorated the city centre and is a net cost pressure on the public purse.

“It’s not the golden goose the administration regrettably thought it would be, and so I want to know more about the £150m proposal.

” I don’t want to see the same mistake – the council should not be risking public funds thinking it can act like a private business.”