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Parking charges soar but gritting spared as we reveal full scale of budget cuts across Aberdeenshire

The crucial meeting, described as an "annual salami slicing fest", was over in just four hours.

Free parking and school crossing patrollers will be axed but winter gritting retained as part of Aberdeenshire Council's 2024 budget. Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson
Free parking and school crossing patrollers will be axed but winter gritting retained as part of Aberdeenshire Council's 2024 budget. Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson

Aberdeenshire Council has set its budget for the year ahead – with controversial cuts defended as leaders claimed they were devoting cash to “those who need it most”.

Councillors met at Woodhill House in Aberdeen for the crunch session.

The budget meeting, described by councillor Ross Cassie as the “annual salami slicing fest”, was done and dusted in just four hours as political bickering was largely set aside.

Members considered a number of cuts which were needed to plug the local authority’s £35.45 million black hole.

Aberdeenshire Council leader councillor Gillian Owen. Image: Colin Rennie/DC Thomson

Council leader Gillian Owen told the chamber that if it were to continue operating at current levels, it would end up £67m in the red.

But she said the proposed savings were “achievable and reasonable”.

Aberdeenshire Council will spend £753 million providing care, education, roads maintenance, waste services, leisure and more across the region this year.

But what has been cut, and what has been saved from the axe?

Schools to feel impact of package of cuts

Mrs Owen noted that more than half of the budget is allocated to education, something she said was “critical”.

However, the council will press ahead with its plan to remove all of its school crossing patrollers to save more than £430,000.

Some janitor posts will also be axed, saving £195,000.

Aberdeenshire Council is withdrawing all of its school crossing patrollers.

Meanwhile, cuts will be made to speech and language services.

The equivalent of nine roles will be lost while therapy contracts will be terminated, a move that will affect 6,282 children.

Charities warned this came at a time when “teachers are reporting alarming numbers of children coming to school with minimal spoken language”.

Glenn Carter, head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, wanted to address the chamber ahead of the meeting, but was denied a request to speak.

We met with furious parents after the move was voted through. 

Plans for a new Dunnottar Primary School in Stonehaven have been delayed. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

The administration also opted to remove £12,000 from the Riding for the Disabled service.

Ms Owen said that the decisions were “incredibly difficult” but claimed reinvesting the money in other ways would “better serve all”.

Meanwhile plans to build new primary schools in Fraserburgh and Stonehaven will be “pushed back” due to funding constraints.

Kitchens in smaller schools will be closed, to save £45,000 – while stopping catering staff from having a free lunch will reduce costs by £30,000.

Meanwhile, “dynamic pricing” will be applied to meals, meaning the price of a lunch can shoot up if the cost of items increases.

What else is being cut?

A number of savings previously outlined ahead of the crucial meeting will now be carried out.

This includes charges being added to free spaces currently found in pay and display car parks in Inverurie, Fraserburgh, Banff and Turriff.

The move was approved despite fears from local businesses that doing so could “kill off the high street”.

Free parking within Burn Lane car park in Inverurie will become subject to charges. Image: Kirstie Topp/DC Thomson

Parking charges are also set to increase by up to 30% as the council aims to claw back some additional cash.

Maintenance of the region’s parks will be cut down with weeding and pruning reduced to save £99,000.

Seasonal garden waste collections will also be reviewed.

If it goes ahead, residents could be forced to take their own waste to household recycling centres – saving the council £753,000.

Aberdeenshire Council’s service points in Ellon, Turriff, Banff, Stonehaven and Huntly will also be closed.

This will save £183,000 while closing underused offices across the region will recoup £314,000.

Lib Dem leader Anne Stirling suggested this could free up space for retail use in town centres.

Are there any budget winners?

The council’s winter maintenance programme was spared from cuts, with its current operations remaining “largely untouched”.

Mrs Owen said this was largely down to feedback from residents, who had told the local authority how important this was.

Because of the great response, its priority gritting routes will continue to be cared for as temperatures plummet during the winter months.

Construction will continue on the new £11.4m community facility in Ellon, comprised of council offices and the relocation of the town’s library.

Plans to transform Macduff Marine Aquarium will continue this year. Image: Aberdeenshire Council

Meanwhile, work will begin on the Macduff Marine Aquarium revamp and Peterhead Cultural Quarter.

The council will also look to continue transforming its Aberdeen headquarters into a public sector hub.

This could make the council more than £1m over the next two years.

And it will carry on with its commitment to build a “long overdue” new Peterhead Community Campus.

The council leader also confirmed that essential repair works to Banff Bridge would begin this year while plans to improve Aboyne Bridge would be carried out.

Council Tax freeze ‘welcomed’ by residents

Ahead of the meeting, the council agreed to accept just under £8m from the Scottish Government to address the council tax freeze.

Mock-up of a council tax bill.
Aberdeenshire Council leader Gillian Owen said the council tax freeze would be “welcomed” by residents. Image: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Ms Owen noted the freeze would be a “welcome announcement” for Aberdeenshire residents who are struggling with increasing household budgets.

But last night, the local authority was told it would receive an extra £3.1m – subject to the final UK Government settlement.

The additional cash will be placed in Aberdeenshire Council’s reserves fund while bosses decide what to do with it.

Fight to keep educational services

Opposition group leader Gwyneth Petrie put forward an alternative budget proposal.

The opposition’s document called to keep educational psychology staff along with funding for speech and language services and Riding for Disabled.

The SNP councillor said that the region’s young people and disabled “shouldn’t bear the brunt of our budget decisions”.

She added that the impact of savings would be “detrimental” to pupils’ wellbeing.

The vehicle ban is in operation outside Fraserburgh South Park School. Image: Google Street View

The opposition also called to retain the school crossing controllers.

Ms Petrie argued that many families didn’t feel streets around schools were safe enough for youngsters to walk on.

She noted the ongoing traffic ban trial at Fraserburgh’s South Park School and suggested it be extended throughout the region.

Support for new Fraserburgh School

The opposition asked for the new Fraserburgh and Stonehaven schools to be included in the capital plan.

Ms Petrie said doing so would ensure work would continue to allow the sites to be “shovel ready” when full funding is available.

Fraserburgh councillor Doreen Mair also spoke out in support of the new educational facility for the Broch.

An artist impressions of the proposed new Fraserburgh primary school. Image: Aberdeenshire Council

She said the project was “absolutely ready” to go out to tender and noted it would serve “some of the most vulnerable and deprived postcodes in Aberdeenshire”.

While councillors seemed to agree on most of the proposed cuts, a vote was carried out which led to the administration’s budget being agreed by 38 to 23.

Two no-votes were also recorded.

Meanwhile, councillors agreed to increase rent charges by 5% annually over the next three years.

This will see tenants pay an extra £4.41 per week, generating more than £4.69m for the council by the end of the period.

ALL school crossing patrollers across Aberdeenshire axed despite fears streets ‘aren’t safe’