Sports and leisure facilities and cultural venues like His Majesty’s Theatre could be left fighting to survive – as Aberdeen City Council looks to slash tens of millions from annual spending to balance the books.
The public are being given a say on next year’s city budget, as councillors tussle with a projected £35 million black hole.
The Press and Journal has been given an exclusive first look – with the public poll launched today and ending on November 12.
Money placed aside to repair Aberdeen’s crumbling pavements and roads could be halved.
And you might be left unable to see the remaining potholes – or lingering icy patches due to fewer gritters – because every second streetlight could be extinguished.
Grants for charities and support for people leaving the care system could also be slashed.
And the biggest, bleakest budgetary doubt hangs over schools. New buildings could be shelved, schools days shortened, buses stopped and kitchens shut.
But there are dozens of options being put to the public, before a final decision is taken by councillors.
Residents, in the first phase of consultation, told city councils to leave education unscathed in the budget cull to come.
Art, culture and sport, and roads and public transport, followed next on the public priority list.
What does the Aberdeen City Council budget survey reveal?
One thing looks apparent from the options being put to the public: Aberdonians will likely be paying more for less.
Even if all the suggested cuts are backed, it would still leave £20m to be made up by increased tax or charges.
Marischal College bosses have long warned that the council will no longer be able to provide current services unless residents put their hands in their pockets.
Input from the consultation – the second, more detailed, wave ahead of budget day on March 6 – will leave the council in little doubt of opinion.
Proposals brought forward by the council’s top bookkeepers pave the way to cutting £83m over the next four years.
Council staff were on Monday briefed about potential multi-million-pound savings, as some could pave the way for council offices to close and negotiations with trade unions.
Finance convener Alex McLellan told The P&J last night: “Aberdeen City Council has brought forward an enhanced public consultation on the budget setting process for the first time.
“There are no easy options for the council, given the challenging environment which we are operating in, to continue to deliver the same services when the cost of those service are increasing due to the unprecedented rate of inflation in the UK over the last 18 months.
“This consultation offers an opportunity for people in Aberdeen to understand the challenges the local authority faces.
“But it also allows them to have their say on the officers’ savings proposals ahead of councillors setting the 2024-25 budget next year.”
Arts, culture and sport funding in Aberdeen could be slashed
As one of the largest suggested savings, a potential cut of £5.3m looms over Aberdeen’s leisure facilities.
The outlined saving next to the option to “remove or reduce funding to sports organisations” accounts for last year’s full funding for Sport Aberdeen and Aberdeen Sports Village.
Grant cuts of only £687,000 for the city’s charity leisure operator were enough to force the closure of the Beach Leisure Centre and Bucksburn swimming pool in April.
But Sport Aberdeen made £10.2m over the last year, having received £4.8m from the local authority.
So the cuts would not necessarily spell the end for all city sports facilities.
Elsewhere, cultural grants – including funding for Aberdeen Performing Arts – could be halted to save nearly £1.5m.
The Tolbooth Museum, currently under renovation at a cost of £1.36m, could be shut and Aberdeen other museums and galleries open less of the day.
Berryden Corridor delays could help balance Aberdeen City Council’s budget
Building the Berryden Corridor dual carriageway is also at risk.
A long time coming, the public are being asked whether they can stomach a delay in construction to save £1.5m.
Meanwhile budgets to be spent repairing roads and pavements, as well as buying low carbon vehicles, could be halved.
Maintenance would be carried out to a “lower standard”, should the cuts go ahead.
The public will also be asked their thoughts on closing the city’s park and rides, spending £600,000 less on salting and clearing wintry roads and whether they think leaving every other street light out is worth saving £1m.
Play parks could scrapped across Aberdeen
The public buildings that remain open could still be left to gather dust – with proposals to reduce cleaning.
City funding for street cleaning and the busy Our Union Street taskforce could also be slashed, after only a year of support from the public purse.
Meanwhile, closure of the prized David Welsh Winter Gardens in Duthie Park and Pets Corner at Hazlehead Park has been floated.
Along with that, up to 25 play parks in Aberdeen could be removed and grass left to overgrow in open spaces, cemeteries and parks.
All but the Hazlehead household recycling centre could close too, while bins could be collected once every three weeks instead of fortnightly.
Marischal College could be left a ghost town, leaving the public with no choice but to deal with the council online.
Staff and security could be removed from the reception at council HQ, while face-to-face and telephone contact with officials could end too.
Proposed cuts to schools – and slashing free meals and nursery provision – could save around £31m. Find out more about those plans here.
Would you swallow a £250 council tax rise to stop cuts in Aberdeen?
Those taking part in the council’s budget simulator are tasked with cutting the £83m from spending.
There are dozens of options for savings – or the option to increase council tax.
Taxpayers faced a 5% rise in 2023-24, spared from official suggestions for a 10% hike.
It brings in £137.9m a year to fund council services.
Now, the public are being asked how much they might be willing to pay to lessen the impact of the required cuts.
Raising council tax by up to 16% a year until 2027-28 could spare any public services from the axe.
But it would add around £250 pounds to the Band D rate next year alone.
How else can Aberdeen City Council raise cash rather than cut?
Other options to bring in more cash include rises of up to 10% on car parking charges, parking permit costs, the garden waste collection fee, cremation costs and things like after-school care and business permits.
Or the council could revisit the hotly political issue of workplace parking levies, in the hope of raising £3m from April 2028 onwards. The council has already been accused of going to ‘war with motorists’ recently.
A visitor levy could raise another £700,000 for Aberdeen, should the Scottish Parliament pass a new law allowing the new tax on overnight accommodation.
But that money would have to be spent on tourism infrastructure.
Otherwise, a third party could be brought in to run the Beach Ballroom – potentially raising £162,000 next year.
Have your say: Aberdeen City Council’s budget simulator
Council co-leader Ian Yuill urged as many people as possible to take part in the consultation before it closes on November 12.
“Each person’s views matter,” he said.
“The bigger the response to the consultation, the better chance the council has of making the right budget decisions for communities.”
You can have your say on the financial officials’ proposals online by visiting the council’s dedicated consultation website.
Councillors will have the final say on how to balance the budget in March.
Participants will be met with the bleak £83m savings target, with options listed down the left hand of their computer screen.
On your smartphone, the list from council tax to waste collection fills the page and opens up sliding bars.
Your entry does not have to add up to £83m and on most of the options, you can opt to save none, half or all of the suggested sum.
There is also a comment box at the bottom of each section to allow you to give council bosses more information on how any of the suggestions could impact you.
For those without internet access at home, the consultation can be accessed at city schools, libraries and the customer service centre at Marischal College in Broad Street, during normal opening hours.