Compulsory job losses “can’t be ruled out” as Aberdeenshire Council strives to save almost £40 million in its latest budget.
Council leader Jim Gifford and deputy leader Peter Argyle yesterday sounded the warning, though they said the move would be a “last resort”.
Aberdeenshire councillors will meet to set the budget for the next financial year tomorrow, having last month agreed to a maximum potential council tax increase of 4.84% to help balance the books.
However, many councillors will not be personally in attendance due to precautions regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they will cast their vote and take part in proceedings via the internet.
For the upcoming year, the council’s planned income from the Scottish Government’s settlement is £452.862 million, which is about £5.7 million more than was originally anticipated.
But major cuts will still be required, and it is expected that 65.5 full time positions could be axed.
The potential savings include £1.57 million from the education and children’s services budget, £915,000 from the infrastructure budget, and £1.96 million from business services.
The cost of music tuition in schools could increase, free car parking in Aberdeenshire’s towns could be reduced and a huge range of other cost-saving options are also being considered.
Mr Gifford said: “By hook or by crook, we always manage to get a balanced budget, but it’s getting progressively more difficult as this is now 12 years in a row that we’ve had our money cut in real terms.
“The easier decisions were made years ago, so now it’s really getting difficult.
“We trimmed the fat many years ago, and have been cutting into the real meat of the organisations now for years – it really is salami-slicing that we’re doing now.
“We’ve done as much as we can to protect education from cuts, but it’s a challenge as education is about 60% of our budget for next year.”
He added: “We’re managing vacant posts. We’ve never said that there wouldn’t be compulsory redundancies, but that’s a last resort which we’ve never had to go to.”
Mr Gifford said he “would doubt it very much” that there will be mandatory job losses this year.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Aberdeenshire Council will receive £494.7 million in 2020/21.
“Together with the decision to increase their council tax by 3% in real terms, the council will have an additional £37.8 million, or 8.8%, to support their day-to-date services compared with 2019/20.”
‘The right way to move forward’
Scores of potential cuts have been put forward to help the council make ends meet, including £951,000 being axed from the infrastructure budget.
Deputy council leader Peter Argyle, also leader of the infrastructure services committee, said the options are necessary and the right way to move forward.
Among the potential changes which could be approved tomorrow would be the use of drones to carry out certain parts of road maintenance, flood management, and the inspection of quarries, in an effort to save an estimated £37,000.
It is also predicted that by extending the number of pay and display parking spots throughout the region, as well as adding paid-for parking spots in communities currently free from them, the authority could generate around £60,000.
Last September, free parking periods were scrapped in the authority’s pay and display car parks.
Before the change, motorists were able to park without spending a penny for up to an hour, but must now pay 50p.
Mr Argyle said: “For example, if you have a bridge that needs inspecting it could require scaffolding, permits and a not-inconsiderable amount of manpower.
“Drones can do almost everything required to achieve this goal, except actually tapping structures, which is a method of assessing them.”
The deputy leader explained that any potential reduction of free car parking spaces across Aberdeenshire would be subject to consultation.
Alternative budget proposals
Opposition parties will present their own alternative budget proposals on Wednesday.
Councillor Richard Thomson, leader of the council’s SNP group, said the authority will benefit greatly from the extra cash granted for councils as a result of the Scottish Government’s budget deal.
Last month, the Scottish Government reached an agreement over its budget, which included an extra £4.567 million for Aberdeenshire Council.
Mr Thomson said: “The additional monies received for the council as a result of the Holyrood budget deal were much-needed and have made a big difference to the choices councillors in Aberdeenshire will be able to make this year.
“It is important in the present climate for councils to make sure that they can support jobs and businesses while protecting core services.
“That is exactly what the opposition’s alternative budget proposals will set out to do on Wednesday.”
Labour’s Alison Evison, deputy leader of the opposition on the council, added: “The local government financial settlement has not given councils a break from having to make budget cuts again this year and we have all faced some challenging choices.
“The choices we have made in opposition reflect the priorities which we have developed through our work with our communities and are responsive to local need.