‘Least-worst’ budget increases Aberdeenshire council tax across the board

Jim Gifford and Peter Argyle. (Picture: Colin Rennie)

Aberdeenshire councillors agreed on a £550million annual budget yesterday after agreeing cuts in a “least-worst” scenario which will increase bills across the board for a second year.

The Liberal Democrat-Conservative alliance administration was faced with making savings of £20million – blaming an “unfair” settlement from the Scottish Government.

Leader Jim Gifford said last night that the numbers were “really scary”, but said the solution ultimately lay at the feet of Holyrood.

To help fill the hole, a 3% increase in council tax – £35 a year for a Band D property – was agreed which will raise £3.9million in extra revenue.

A £7.7million boost was added to the settlement last week following a last-minute deal between the Green Party and the SNP.

A further £492,000 came into the mix last month after an accounting error was discovered in relation to misallocation of Criminal Justice Funding.

Mr Gifford said the whole process had been “very difficult” due to “ever-changing goal posts”.

With the extra £7.7million cash, planned cuts to pupil support teachers were reversed as were support for learning staff within special education.

And an extra £5million was added to the general reserves of the authority, with £3million of that being ear-marked for staff pay increases “should they come through in national negotiations”.

Deputy leader Peter Argyle said there was “no magic money tree” or “cavalry coming to help”.

He added:  “There has been a steady decline in the settlements year-on-year, which in turn has coincided with an increase in demand for services with our changing demographics.

“This has left us with no ‘low hanging fruit’ – we have had to find £20million of savings just to stand still.”

The alliance set aside £301million for education and children’s services, £74million for infrastructure, £107million for social care and £40million for business services.

The authority’s reserves have £37million set aside for annual eventualities.

The SNP-labour partnership co-leader Alison Evison tried to add-in a £61,000 provision for period poverty. It sparked some debate following a vote at last week’s education and children’s services committee who agreed not to change the way they give out free products for all secondary schools in the region.

Deeside councillor Geva Blackett agreed with the need for the inclusion of the spend and added: “Let’s give girls in Aberdeenshire the dignity they deserve – regardless of whether the decision was taken at committee.”

However Jim Gifford later said that the proper democratic process had been followed, and said: “If they were so bent out of shape by it last week, why didn’t they refer it to council?”

The budget was approved by votes of 41 to 21, with five no votes and three councillors giving their apologies for non-attendance.