Community groups and trade unions across Aberdeen have spoken of their “shock” after being told the city faces cuts of up to £50 million.
As reported in yesterday’s Evening Express, Aberdeen City Council co-leader Jenny Laing said the cuts are the biggest in a decade, adding they would have a “direct impact” on council staff, arm’s-length and third-sector organisations.
Stakeholders gathered at the Town House yesterday were told it was “very likely” that “everyone in the room” would be hit by decisions the council must make.
After the summit, Fiona Young, a community development worker at Tillydrone Community Flat, said if the facility’s funding is lost or reduced, some of the most vulnerable people in the city would find themselves “back out on the street”.
The hub provides support to locals and its services include a creche, adult learning classes, support with benefits and housing issues, and a food bank.
It relies on funding of around £49,000 a year to provide its services and two staff salaries.
Ms Young said: “Grassroots organisations like the community flats were generally set up because existing community centres were closed in the last round of cuts. On a small amount of money they’re supporting people in the poorest areas of the city. If we lose that funding or it’s cut, some of the most vulnerable people in the city will be back out on the street.
“All of this could happen at short notice.”
Meanwhile, Paul O’Connor, chairman of Inchgarth Community Centre, said he was “very worried” by potential cuts to the centre’s annual £11,000 budget, saying it would affect children, disabled and elderly people.
Trade union representatives also spoke of “shock” at the scale of the cuts.
Simon Watson, regional organiser for Unison, said: “The scale of the cuts is a shock but it reflects the fact the government doesn’t value the services that local authorities provide.
“There needs to be a political change of view with how they view local authorities and the services they provide. Staff are already bending over backwards to change and adopt to deliver services as best they can.”
Council leaders have called for Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to allow them to retain around £28m in business rates – the amount extra they raised in 2018-19 above the target set by the Scottish Government.
Ms Laing also said the council “wouldn’t rule out” upping council tax by 4.79% after Mr Mackay agreed an increase to the previous 3% cap, but the ruling administration made up of Labour, Conservative and independent councillors, would need to have discussions in the coming weeks to agree any increase.
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, who also attended yesterday’s event, said: “I think we knew when the government announced such a massive reduction in the grant for Aberdeen that it was obvious this would have a serious impact on services.
“The scale is now clear and it’s obvious that a lot of things that have been done in Aberdeen are at risk.”
SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said: “I thought it was ludicrous to invite community groups, third-sector partners and business representatives to a meeting when the co-leaders are completely unable to discuss in detail how they intend to actually make savings.
“Perhaps the most important part of the entire meeting was the fact that almost the entirety of the projected savings needed actually derive from the council’s own cost pressures, while a fair chunk of the information provided was already outdated based upon the good news from Holyrood yesterday.
“Certainly, the concept that these savings are in any way someone else’s fault is as ridiculous as it is laughable. The people of Aberdeen are acutely aware of each and every huge overspend that this administration has ushered in since 2012.”
Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes said: “I believe the measures I have set out will deliver the most significant empowerment of local authorities since devolution.
“Taken together this enhanced package offers £187m of increased funding and flexibility to local authorities, providing additional spending power to directly support their core services, on top of the £11.1 billion local government settlement.
“This means Aberdeen Council will receive £375.74m to fund local services in 2019-20.
“Using their council tax powers they could also generate an additional £5.8m meaning a total of £381.55m to support the delivery of local services next year. This represents an increase of £21.2m or 5.89%.”