Aberdeen City Council sets priorities in 2018/19 budget

Aberdeen City Council has set its 2018/19 budget and underlined the authority’s commitment to innovation in service delivery as well as a range of new initiatives.

A balanced budget was agreed at a meeting of the full Council yesterday (6 March 2018), taking into account the requirement for savings and the need to protect services. The Council is governed by the Local Government Finance Act 1992 and projected expenditure must be matched by income.

A budgeted spend of over £950million, comprising £269m capital and £689m revenue expenditure, was set.

The ongoing transformation of the Council’s structure and operations was at the heart of this year’s budget, with the transition to a new Target Operating Model (TOM) an essential component in measures to address the significant financial challenges of 2018/19 and the years ahead.

Additional options for savings and income generation were also required to bridge the funding gap and a proposed 3% increase in Council Tax was approved by members. This will generate £3.389m.

Councillor Douglas Lumsden, Co-Leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: “The financial pressures we face as a local authority are clear as funding decreases but demand increases. Our duty is to find solutions which support our communities and protect services whilst enabling the ambitious plans for the city to be driven forward. The budget is framed around our commitments to the people, place and economy of the city.

“Young people are at the heart of the plans for 2018/19. Investment in mental health services for children and young people as well as in tackling period poverty in city schools are some of the key measures included. The commitment to additional staff resources to support our next generation will is also continued and funding for the innovative school meal provision in holiday periods is earmarked.

“Our emphasis on the city and its communities also runs through the budget. A new initiative to bring empty properties back into use in Aberdeen to support our efforts to address housing challenges is included and we have made clear our intention to press forward with developing plans for an Energy Service Company to drive energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty.

“Sustainable transport too is high on the agenda and the budget has allowed us to bring forward a new push to think differently and to encourage more Aberdonians moving on two-wheels instead of four, as well as for the expansion of provision for electric vehicles and expansion of the hydrogen fleet.

“The economy of the city and wider region is also central to the 2018/19 plans. The comprehensive capital programme we can see transforming Aberdeen is a major part of that - but we also bring forward new initiatives to support businesses and employees. Promoting our growing cultural offering and securing Aberdeen’s place as a destination of choice for visitors from across the globe also features.

“These positive commitments are set against the challenges we face. In order to counter the reduction in funding, a 3% increase in Council Tax has been agreed. It was a difficult choice, one of many which had to be made in setting a balanced budget and protecting frontline services.

“The largest contribution to easing the budget pressures will come from within the Council as we fundamentally change the way in which we operate. Momentum is building in the transition to the Target Operating Model, which will improve the service to our customers but also deliver essential financial efficiencies.”

Key recommendations agreed by elected members at yesterday’s meeting were aligned to the Local Outcome Improvement Plan. This 10-year plan is designed to embrace partnership working to break cycles of deprivation and ensure that Aberdeen is a place where all people can prosper. The LOIP provides the vision for Aberdeen for the period 2016-26 and will be delivered in conjunction with the Council’s public-sector partners. The LOIP themes and principles are:

  • People – Recognising children are our future and making sure young people and adults are resilient, included and supported when in need;
  • Place – Encouraging empowered, resilient and sustainable communities;
  • Economy – Driving forward with a strategy to ensure Aberdeen prospers;
  • Digital – A commitment to an innovative and integrated future.

Commitments included in the 2018/19 budget include:

  • People: Funding of £50,000 to roll-out the provision of free meals and activities to children in school holidays in key communities; A new £40,000 project for the free distribution of sanitary products in city schools to tackle period poverty; £100,000 funding for two additional youth counsellors to help meet demand for mental health support and early intervention; In the region of £4.5m will be set aside for participatory budgeting schemes which enable communities to make decisions on spend in their area.
  • Place: A new approach for the city to improving housing supply by introducing a role dedicated to identifying vacant private properties and working with the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership to bring these back into use; Plans for the creation of an Energy Service Company, with the aim of reducing fuel poverty and energy efficiency across the city; Progression of plans to introduce a cycle hire scheme as part of the wider sustainable travel strategy.
  • Digital: Ongoing transformation of the Council to embrace digital opportunities and improve the way in which residents and businesses can access services.

The £269m capital budget includes commitments to a range of key projects. These include:

  • People: The Council continues to invest in education, with over £22m allocated for new schools in Torry and Tillydrone, and opening the new Stoneywood Primary and Lochside Academy. The community estate also sees investment of over £5m in the new Tillydrone Community Hub and completing the Station House Media Unit extension. The social care estate is enhanced by the acquisition of Kingsmead care home.
  • Place: Major infrastructure projects include a continued commitment to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. A further £5m is earmarked for investment and renewal in roads infrastructure and over £2m for street lighting enhancements, with an additional capital investment of £10m on road maintenance over the next five years; The City Centre Masterplan funding in 2018/19 will focus on the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens, completing the Broad Street works, and beginning the restoration of Provost Skene’s House.
  • Economy: Over £100 million is set aside to continue construction of the new Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, which will be a major driver in the regional economy. Over £3m is also committed to the next phase of city’s hydrogen strategy;
  • Digital: Following the recent announcement Aberdeen will become Scotland’s first city with gigabit connectivity, £2m is committed to technology requirements and investment in the Council’s digital strategy.

A number of other options and recommendations were agreed by councillors in respect of the 2017/18 budget.

This includes a net budget transfer of £83m to the Integration Joint Board to continue delivering the functions delegated to the Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership by Aberdeen City Council and NHS Grampian.

The full budget decisions will be published in the Council and Democracy section of the website,where the associated reports considered at yesterday’s meeting can also be found.