Scotland’s Public Finance Minister today denied the north-east has been short-changed in a budget described as “disastrous” for residents.
In a interview with the Evening Express, MSP Kate Forbes hit back at claims Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will lose out in their latest budget settlements from the Scottish Government.
In yesterday’s Evening Express, Aberdeen City Council’s co-leaders claimed Holyrood had cut the authority’s general revenue grant by almost £60 million in three years.
The budget settlements have also been criticised by Aberdeenshire councillor Alison Evison, also president of Cosla, an organisation representing local authorities in Scotland, who said councils have reached a point where there is “simply nowhere left to go”.
Ms Forbes said it was “misleading” to look at just the general revenue figures – the fund which supports the council’s day-to-day services – arguing the collection of business rates means the city will receive more than £372m to fund local services in 2019-20.
She added: “Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have not been short-changed. On the contrary, there’s funding there. I think for me the important aspect is the local authorities have the freedom to increase their council tax by up to 3%, which will increase that income.”
The city is expected to receive general revenue funding, which supports the day-to-day services the council provides, of £57m in 2019-20, down from £84.4m in 2018-19.
Only Orkney and Shetland are receiving less revenue funding, with £59.1m and £56.4m respectively, but each have a population of around 23,000 compared to Aberdeen, which has 230,000.
Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire’s general revenue funding would fall from £297.8m to £277.9m.
Ms Evison warned the budget settlement would threaten jobs.
She said: “Without a rethink from Scottish Government or a Parliamentary intervention, these budget proposals will prove to be very bad for both communities and the services we deliver.
“The settlement for Scottish Local Government, as it currently stands, puts inclusive growth for our whole country at risk.
“This is not an idle threat. This settlement means real jobs in real communities will go. It is as stark and simple as that.”
Council leaders have slammed the budget settlement as “disastrous” for the city, adding the local authority would have to look at cuts to “frontline services”.
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “I think it’s a scandal that Aberdeen is at the same level of funding as Orkney and Shetland.
“We’re Scotland’s third largest city contributing a large amount to the Scottish economy and we’re really being short-changed by the SNP Government.”
Each local authority receives ring-fenced grants which they must spend on supporting services, such as expanding funded nursery places, with Aberdeen having to spend £13.3m on this.
Jenny Laing, fellow council co-leader, said: “We have to bear in mind that local authorities have an increasing number of statutory services they have to deliver. We have the Scottish Government laying down conditions around ring-fencing of certain parts of the budget.
“We will have to take all of that into account.”
However, Ms Forbes said the budget settlement puts the power in local councils’ hands.
She said: “I think for me the important aspect is the local authorities have the freedom to decide on their own spending priorities.
“They have to fulfil statutory obligations and there is additional spend on the services which people who live and work and play here in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will use.”
Ms Forbes added the Scottish Government has set its budget in the backdrop of austerity from the Westminster Government, with a cut to the Scottish budget.
And Stephen Flynn, city SNP group leader, said: “It’s unsurprising to see the administration have dusted off their annual budget quotes while once again completely ignoring their inability to get Cosla to change the funding formula in place.
“Not only that, but they ignore the tens of millions of pounds worth of overspends and delays that have been incurred on their watch.
“Folk aren’t daft, they know this administration has a truly woeful record when it comes to meeting budget constraints.
“I only wish they spent more time on getting their own house in order.”