As the convener of the finance committee I am tasked each year to bring about a balanced budget for the City of Aberdeen.
This is never easy given the competing interests of the various services we provide on behalf of our citizens, especially as Aberdeen City Council is the lowest-funded council in Scotland.
For the last three years, the administration’s budget has been balanced without the need to find extra savings, however, this year, thanks to the disproportional cuts in budget we have received from the Scottish Government, we are required to find substantial savings.
It goes without saying the needs and aspirations of our citizens are always put first and that is why I am pleased we have managed to get our budget deficit down from the projected £26 million to just £2.4m. We have achieved this by making over £20m of efficiency savings, which will mean no citizen should see any difference to the services the council already provides.
The dark days of Audit Scotland looking into how the city has been run are over with a clear focus on stability being at the heart of everything we do.
The council has a balance sheet to be proud of with strong reserves behind it, unlike many councils in Scotland who have been forced to raid their reserves just to make ends meet.
The council is proud to be a living wage employer and our focus has been on ensuring there are no job losses within the council. We are pleased, in contrast to other councils, there are no job losses in Aberdeen.
The council recognises the downturn in the oil industry and that is why we are investing more than £516m in our capital budget over the next five years. £320m of that capital investment will be spent in the next two years.
Education remains at the heart of our priorities and we believe by focusing on education, including lifelong learning, we can work towards becoming a city of learning with a city-wide workforce, which will help us to grow and diversify the economy. That is why I can guarantee, despite officers’ recommendations, we will not close any of our libraries.
Again, the focus will be on education, where we are committed to spending £92m on new or refurbishing schools. On road improvements – we will spend £22m on the Berryden improvements, as well as the final £25m of our £75m contribution towards the AWPR.
Add investment in the new art gallery, new AECC, new waste facilities, flood prevention schemes and the £28m allocated towards upgrading the city centre and the future looks bright for the City of Aberdeen.
The council has an impact on all of our lives and, despite cuts, I promise our citizens the services we currently provide, from cleaning the streets to emptying the bins, to teaching our children and ensuring our roads are properly managed, to providing for the most vulnerable in our society will be maintained to the same standards as we currently provide today, which is no mean feat given our financial challenges.
Our budget is a budget for growth, it’s a budget for prosperity, it’s a budget that provides for the needs and aspirations of our citizens and, above all, it’s a budget that will shape Aberdeen for the next five years.
Response from the Scottish Government
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our offer has been accepted by all 32 local authorities, who have secured their share of a £10.3 billion funding package.
“Householders, workers, healthcare and schools will all benefit from the deal, which allows the opportunity to transform the provision of social care in Scotland with a £250m investment in integrating health and social care services – helping to make our services fit for the challenges of the 21st Century.
“We recognise the pressures on budgets across the whole of the public sector, and in households throughout Scotland, which is why it is important to maintain the Council Tax freeze – which has now saved the average B and D household around £1,500 in total – while we consider ways to replace it, as well as reimbursing local authorities to ensure they can continue to provide essential services.”