Community groups facing cuts and council tax could rise to help plug Aberdeen’s £41.2m funding gap

Aberdeen council chiefs have today unveiled options to plug a £41.2 million funding blackhole.

Under the budget proposals to plug the funding gap for 2019-20 set to go before councillors next week, a raft of cost-saving measures will be on the table.

The savings presented, which total £44.741 million, could see council tax rise by up to 4.79%, crossing patrollers axed and the closure of all Aberdeen’s libraries with the exception of Central Library.

But the options also suggest increases to fees and services – including hire charges for dvds and CDs in libraries.

And leading politicians in the city laid the blame for the funding woes at the Scottish Government’s door.

Among the budget options mooted are axing school crossing patrollers, which would save £317,000, closing public toilets to save £257,000 and stopping school transport to the Gaelic unit to reduce £56,000.

While reductions to roads services such as winter maintenance and pothole repairs would save £153,000 and £150,000.

Spending on the upkeep of parks and cemeteries could be cut by £520,000 and £370,000.

An option to close all libraries in the city apart from Aberdeen Central would save £863,000.

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Meanwhile, a council tax raise of 4.79% could raise an extra £5.571m.

Grant cuts for organisations such as Shelter Scotland, Aberdeen Performing Arts and Visit Aberdeenshire could also be introduced, with the latter potentially losing £260,000.

While under the budget options Sport Aberdeen could see its funding drop from just over £6m to £3.4m – a cut of just over £2.5m, with council co-leader Douglas Lumsden warning the move could see swimming pools, sports centres, gyms and golf courses closing down.

“A budget reduction of this scale would obliterate Sport Aberdeen” – Alistair Robertson

In the report it states: “Sport Aberdeen is a subsidiary and currently receives funding for the provision of a range of leisure facilities across the city.

“The proposals set out in this report significantly impact on the value of funding that would be awarded to the organisation.

“The ultimate decision on how that funding reduction was implemented would be taken by the Sport Aberdeen Board.”

Alistair Robertson, managing director for Sport Aberdeen, said: “I think people are well aware that public services are under increasing pressure and that nobody wins in this situation.

“However, I regret that a budget reduction of this scale would obliterate Sport Aberdeen.”

Other options also include raising income through increases to fees and charges, for example car parking permits, charges for bulky uplifts and price hikes for burials.

While new income opportunities could include franchising the Beach Ballroom for six months to make £146,000, as well as the introduction of charges for domestic household garden waste to generate £680,000.

The Beach Ballroom

Introducing car parking charges for parks and forests to raise £15,000 is also among the options.

The local authority is also aiming to boost its coffers through reducing its workforce – although it has previously said it would not implement compulsory redundancies and around 260 applications for voluntary severance may be needed.

In the report it states: “Wherever possible, the Council aims to achieve any reduction in staff numbers via the voluntary severance/early retirement scheme and the management of vacancies is of importance in reducing the expenditure on staff.

“It is anticipated that approximately 260 VSER applications will be required.”

Jenny Laing

Councillor Jenny Laing, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, pictured, said: “Aberdeen City Council has to find £42m of savings to balance our books thanks to the SNP austerity measures.

“This will inevitably leads to cuts in services. This is incredibly unfair on residents and businesses in Aberdeen who contribute massively to the Scottish economy but are continually let down by the SNP Government who refuse year on year to give Aberdeen its fair share of funding.”

Councillor Laing added: “To put things into perspective, Aberdeen City Council receives a general revenue grant of just £59.50m from the Scottish Government but has been required to contribute £75m to the building of the new AWPR.

“It really is time for the SNP Government to fund Aberdeen properly so we can continue to support frontline services and jobs.”

The Aberdeen bypass

And Mr Lumsden said: “The budget papers released publicly today set out the current council finances and a range of options and decisions to be taken for the next financial year.

“As an administration, our first priority is to protect the services the council provides and to the employees who carry out the vital services people across Aberdeen depend on.

“What is clear from the information released today is that there are no easy roads ahead.

“The SNP Government’s refusal so far to reverse the huge cuts to Aberdeen’s budget is a disgrace.

“£28m extra was raised in  business rates by the city this year, this could have been used to offset the scale of the cuts faced by the city.

“My colleagues and I will be working to do what we can to bring a budget that protects services and the communities of Aberdeen.”

Ian Yuill

Meanwhile, Liberal Dems group leader, councillor Ian Yuill said: “The Scottish Government’s harsh funding settlement for Aberdeen City Council means the council faces making some truly horrible choices next week.

“The Liberal Democrats’ priorities remain protecting children’s education, ensuring the elderly and vulnerable members of our community receive the services they need and repairing Aberdeen’s crumbling roads and pavements.”

SNP Group Leader councillor Stephen Flynn said: “There can be no hiding from the fact that Councillors will have to make some incredibly difficult decisions at next weeks budget meeting.

“It is now clear that the vast bulk of these cuts are necessary because of the Council’s own internal cost pressures – be that paying off debt, meeting pay awards or settling the Administration’s overspend.

“Despite grand promises that their new operating model would save £125m over five years the Administration seem completely ill prepared for the challenge ahead.

“Moreover we see no let-up in spending – with the Art Gallery now confirmed as over budget and Union Terrace Gardens in the red before a spade has even been put in the ground.

“The Tories, the party who have forced austerity on the public sector, continue to complain about a lack of funding but they have shown themselves completely incapable of getting their own house in order.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Aberdeen Council will receive £375.7m to fund local services in 2019-20.

“Using their council tax powers they could also generate an additional £5.8m meaning a total of £381.6m.

“This represents an increase of £21.2m or 5.9%. Like all councils, Aberdeen City Council already retains every penny that it raises in council tax and business rates.”