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Aberdeen budget: Libraries to close, school meal costs to increase and council tax to rise in ‘deplorable’ savings drive

Public toilets are also being closed, nurseries will shut and pools and gyms will shut after "machete-wielding" cuts were voted through.

The Aberdeen budget for 2023-24 could spell disaster for many locals.
Aberdeen City Council has agreed its budget for the 2023-24 financial year, while protestors battled to avert horror cuts. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Aberdeen pools and gyms will close, six libraries will be boarded up and residents will pay an extra 5% in council tax after a budget bloodbath at the Town House.

Councillors met on Wednesday, March 1, to decide how to make ends meet, faced with a £46.6 million black hole.

Officers had previously suggested a series of drastic measures to save cash, with schools at risk of a bludgeoning and services across the city in danger.

The front page of the Evening Express warned of the possible consequences of the Aberdeen budget for 2023-24. Image: Roddie Reid/DC Thomson

Finance convener Alex McLellan acknowledged “difficult decisions” had been made as he presented plans drafted up by the SNP/Liberal Democrat power-sharing group.

It was passed by 24 votes to 12 after five hours of heated discussion.

Mr McLellan said their blueprint was designed to ensure that “every penny is being spent to residents’ benefit” at a time when the council’s power bills are surging by £5 million.

However, £15,000 has been set aside to mark the coronation of King Charles in May and another £15,000 will cover Freedom of the City celebrations for Aberdeen FC weeks later.

Alex McLellan preparing to take his chair in the chambers after reaching some ‘difficult decisions’. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

What is being cut in Aberdeen budget for 2023-24?

A £687,000 cut to Sport Aberdeen has left the organisation with no choice but to shut the Beach Leisure Centre and Bucksburn Swimming Pool.

The reduction meant the council’s contribution went from £5.2m to £4.5m.

The organisation’s board gathered after the council meeting to plot ways to ensure the charity as a whole can stay afloat.

Aberdeen City Council cut cut Sport Aberdeen funding by almost £700,000
Sport Aberdeen managing director Alistair Robertson. Image: Kami Thomson/DCT Media

Read more about what this means for the swimming pool and seafront fitness venue here.

By Friday night, more than 3,000 people had signed a petition to save Bucksburn Swimming Pool.

Meanwhile, £94,000 of funding towards Aberdeen Sports Village will be slashed too.

That will remove the council’s sponsorship for performance swimming.

The council has partly paid for the programme, for swimmers aged 12 and over, alongside Aberdeen University, Scottish Swimming, Aberdeen Sports Village and local clubs.

University of Aberdeen Performance Swimming coach Gregor McMillan and para swimmer Conner Morrison.

What libraries will close?

Libraries in Cornhill, Cults, Northfield, Ferryhill, Woodside and Kaimhill are all to be “decommissioned” in the months ahead.

The administration was slammed for targeting buildings in the city’s poorer areas for closure as they saved £280,000 with the controversial cut.

Woodside Library on Clifton Road will close. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Stuart MacBride later slammed the closures, saying they will “impoverish chunks of the city”.

Read his comments in full here.

What public toilets are earmarked for closure?

Public toilets in Peterculter and Spa Street are to be shut under the savings plan.

The move will net £70,000.

What fees will go up?

A 10% increase in almost all charges across the board has been voted through to claw back £763,000.

There will be a 4% rent increase for council house tenants.

A rise of 20p per meal for secondary school pupils and 15p for primary children was also backed.

Overall this should secure an added £30,000.

Labour’s Ross Grant blasted the meal increase as “deplorable” at a time when families are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

Ross Grant called the budget ‘very very very horrific’. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

What school buses will be affected?

School bus services will be slashed.

The brakes will be slammed on the 21A from Cove and 22A/B from Torry/Balnagask to Lochside Academy to save £83,000.

The 52 Mannofield bus to Hazlehead Academy, via Springfield Road, will be stopped too to save £18,000.

Funding for the 14 Kingswells – city centre and 15a Craigiebuckler/Airyhall – city centre buses is also being withdrawn in a £195,000 cut.

The Press and Journal has covered the potential cuts extensively. Image: Roddie Reid/DC Thomson

Will nurseries close?

In a bid to save £516,000, the council will close five nurseries.

Middleton, Skene Street, St Joseph’s, Bramblebrae and Sunnybank are all facing closure.

How will cleanliness be affected across Aberdeen?

Studies will now be launched to determine which litter bins in Aberdeen are least used.

Those least at risk of overflowing will be removed, meaning less money spent in emptying them.

There will be a 10% reduction in cleaning hours across all properties other than schools to save £175,000.

School cleaning had been on the chopping block, but was maintained.

Is there help for Aberdeen’s poorest in 2023-24 budget?

A grant of £500,000 will be shared out to help city food banks secure supplies and create pantries.

And £50,000 will be ploughed into a new Anti-Poverty and Inequality Committee to progress “mitigation measures”.

What about Big Noise Torry?

Councillors made their way past hordes of protestors as they entered the Town House, with Big Noise Torry sounding a loud drumbeat.

Beginning the meeting, Lord Provost David Cameron said: “I will do my best to compete with the drums outside.”

Despite that, their pleas fell on deaf ears – with the SNP and Lib Dems voting to sever ties with organisers Sistema.

Conservative group leader Ryan Houghton raged at the “gutting” of the body that helps youngsters living in poorer parts of Aberdeen.

Big Noise Torry launched in July 2015 and supports more than 750 children and young people by equipping them with confidence and music skills.

The cut will mean 75% of its running costs are snatched away.

Big Noise Torry performed at the reopening of Aberdeen Music Hall following a £9 million revamp in 2018. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Read more about the Big Noise Torry blow here as organisers told us they were “heartbroken”.

SNP MP Stephen Flynn is now asking for the Scottish Government to help fund the project – despite his own party colleagues saying continuing to plough cash into it would be a waste.

He said: “There is absolutely no doubt as to the importance of the work that Big Noise do in Torry.”

A £10,000 cut to media charity Shmu was also voted through.

The charity operates from Station Road in Woodside and supports vulnerable adults struggling with significant personal challenges.

What about city’s regeneration hopes?

More than £20m has been set aside for work on the city centre and beach masterplan across the next year.

The first steps to regenerating the seafront will be taken with a new “urban skate park”.

Council bosses have promised to move forward with rejuvenation plans for Aberdeen beach - despite missing out on millions in funding from the UK Government. Image: Aberdeen City Council.
Council bosses have promised to move forward with rejuvenation plans for Aberdeen beach. Image: Aberdeen City Council

And £100,000 will be spent on breathing new life into Union Street over the next three years, with a third of that to be spent in 2023-24.

But the £20,000 in council funding for the Aberdeen Inspired night-time manager role will be pulled.

The job was created to help the evening economy bounce back, and it’s unclear where this will leave it.

However, the £47,000 for the body’s city centre manager role has been kept.

Ewan McLean, economy manager for Aberdeen Inspired. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The Conservative group’s proposed business rates exemption scheme for city centre firms was voted down.

What about culture?

A proposed reduction of £815,000 in culture grants was mooted, sparking dire fears about jobs being lost and the city’s reputation being “tarnished”.

It was even suggested the move would hamstring efforts to revive the Belmont Cinema.

But the SNP and Lib Dems reduced the scale of the cut to just £163,000 in their winning budget.

Arts bosses are expected to find out in March what this will mean.

What will council tax increase mean?

The 5% council tax increase will see the levy rise from April, and bring in £6.5m.

It would mean a rate of £1,490 for a Band D property.

This table shows the current council tax charges and what residents will have to pay from April 1 when the 5% rise comes into force. Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson

Officers had initially suggested a staggering 10% rise to balance the books, but this was later ruled out by council leaders.

What else was agreed?

Burial charges for non-residents will rise, to bring in £63,000.

The controversial permit system for collecting garden waste will stay, despite Lib Dem councillors crusading against it for years.

Now in a power-sharing deal with the SNP, they have been accused of hypocrisy for voting to keep it in place.

Read more here as the leaders were accused of “absolute hypocrisy”.

The environmental “hit squad” formed to tackle fly-tipping will be abandoned to recoup £200,000.

As the council examined all possible areas of savings, community council groups will be charged electricity costs for fixing Christmas lights to lampposts.

The move will amass £2,000.

Labour opponents labelled the SNP’s finance chief  ‘machete-wielding McLellan’. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

What has been saved in Aberdeen budget for 2023-24?

Days before the talks, we revealed the full list of potential cuts – and several worrying options have escaped harm.

The £160,000 at risk for Visit Aberdeenshire has been saved.

The move came after warnings it could lead to scores of tourists opting to stay in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee instead.

The £1.6m Fairer Aberdeen Fund, which lets communities decide how they want money spent, was spared too.

Many people stood outside the Town House to fight for the Fairer Aberdeen Fund. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Taxi marshalls could have been slashed to save £70,000 but they were also removed from the chopping block.

School music tuition, at risk of the axe, has been spared in full.

In addition to that, there will be no reduction in spending on grass-cutting, with Aberdeen’s parks unaffected by the budget.

There were fears that spending on maintaining spaces like Duthie Park could be cut. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

There will be no reduction in spending on streetlights, and Pets Corner escaped the axe again.

Teacher numbers will be maintained, as will the number of hours in the teaching week.

You can read a full report about those benefiting from the budget here.

The meeting saw some fiery scenes as administration leaders only allowed their opponents 10 minutes to look over their range of cuts.

Barney Crockett drew disapproval for likening it to the tactics of Adolf Hitler.