Council tax in Aberdeen will be frozen for the next year and local authority rents frozen for two years after councillors agreed the new budget.
Aberdeen City Council met to discuss how to make £30.4million savings, but ruled out increasing council tax – allowing the authority to take advantage of government funding.
Also included in the budget was a two-year freeze on council tenant rents.
The administration’s budget – which includes a £150 million investment package focusing on the city centre and beach – was passed by 22 votes to 19, with four abstentions.
The authority will also be continuing with the £100 million investment in the city’s school estate, and £23 million investment in road improvements on South College Street, and will instruct officers to bring forward timelines for the Berryden corridor.
Each of the political parties produced a budget having heard council officers recommendations last week – which proposed a range of different cuts, such as upping the charge for garden waste removal and reducing grass cutting.
First, a vote was held between the two amendments from the Liberal Democrats and SNP, with a final vote held between the motion by the administration and the SNP’s amendment, which passed in favour of the administration.
Music services protected – but Dyce library to be relocated and some vacant posts removed.
In its budget, 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 £6 million will be saved through unused budgets by schools, £4 million in savings from non-teaching staff vacancies advertised but not filled, £4.5 million in the management of debt based on Scottish Government approved fiscal flexibilities, £1.5 million in supporting children to remain within their family – reducing out of authority placements, £200,000 in the ELC expansion team, £25,000 relocating Dyce Library to a 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, £213,000 in re-designing staffing and services to remove vacant posts, £30,o00 through a review of exhibitions attended and £6,500,000 is included under the revenue budget in one-off grant funding.
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.”
She added: “I’m very pleased that we have managed to approved the administration budget.
“I think it’s a budget that will help the city to recover from Covid, and is built on the foundations of nine years of work, and will help move us forward, investing in our city.
“There are no cuts to frontline services, we’re protecting jobs through having no compulsory redundancies, and investing in our city centre.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on food poverty, with people who have never had to get help before looking for support. We’re making sure we’re investing in the most vulnerable in the city, not just providing food parcels, but through sustainable food projects, it’s not a hand-out, it’s a hand-up.
“The administration is protecting frontline services, each year it becomes more difficult but we were very mindful this year the impact on residents has been quite extreme. We aren’t going to raise council tax, we’re not going to raise council rents for two years, and I was pleased that the opposition joined us on that.
“We wanted to make sure we looked at how we could streamline council services, we’re fortunate that three years ago we moved to a target operating model, which changed the way in which we deliver services.”
Councillor Alex Nicoll, leader of the opposition SNP group in the city added: “There were no great surprises, most of the group presented similar budgets.
“We produced budgets that would help people by cutting the costs of services. I’m generally content with what we managed to achieve, it was the right thing to do.”
A portion of the meeting was spent discussing the impact that Covid-19 has had on both the council, country and world as a whole, as lockdown began only a few weeks after the last financial year’s budget was set.
It was regarded by many in the chamber that the new budget is a “Covid recovery budget” as it is still unknown what the coming year might hold.
Speaking first in the meeting when laying out the administration’s budget, Aberdeen City Council co-leader Councillor Douglas Lumsden said: “The budget comes at a key time in the city’s history a key time in the world’s history as cities around the globe take the first tentative steps out of the devastating global pandemic that has engulfed us over the last 12 months.
“When I stood before the Chamber a year ago, we knew the coronavirus represented a threat to our wellbeing and way of life, but none of us imagined the extent of its impact which is only now beginning to recede with the rollout of a vaccine.
“My heart goes out to every Aberdonian impacted by Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, Mr Nicoll said the city was under a “triple-hit” with the difficulties it is currently having to deal with.
He added: “We’re facing some unprecedented times. Councillor Lumsden described it as a double-hit, I describe it as a triple-hit – the challenges of Covid, the challenges of Brexit, and the downturn in the oil and gas industry, which is a perfect storm in the city and the north-east that people have to weather.”