Scale and management of cuts

the Accounts Commission has called on councils to take urgent and radical action to deal with the financial challenges ahead in their annual report, An overview of local government in Scotland 2009. The reports points to a likely real term drop in the Scottish budget of between seven and 13 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14.

Things could be worse - the Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne now saying the Conservatives will be "tougher than Margaret Thatcher" when it comes to tackling Britain's budget deficit. This will inevitably put more pressure of local government.

The Democratic Independent Group called for an inclusive all-group approach to making the hard decisions that will be needed in the recent budget. The LibDem/Tory administration may regret refusing this approach.

If the LibDem/Conservative administration on Aberdeenshire want all the power, then they can take all the resoponsibility.

Private lives and public roles

Two senior officials in Aberdeenshire are on leave while the Council investigates matters that have been in the press over the weekend. I have sympathy for the individuals involved. Their private lives should be exactly that (so long as they do not bring it into the workplace.) The intrusion into their lives by The Sun is appalling.

However it is entirely appropriate that claims of bullying and intimidation are investigated. I hope this happens as swiftly as possible. Education is a key service for all our futures and we need good quality, stable management to allow our schools to thrive.

Unions Terrace Gardens v Peacock

Architecture and Design Scotland have now commented on the proposals.

I think it fair to say that they were not impressed.

I started to pick out some choice quotes .... but it was most of the document so I recommend you read the whole thing.

We are nearing the end of the City Square Consultation.  I have seen nothing to change my mind from when I first posted on this topic.

The CitySquare, ASCEF, Ian Wood camp sound increasing strident and unrealistic.  Getting a Guggenheim is the cherry on the top of culture led regeneration - not the start.  For example, Dundee getting a V&A outpost builds on Dundee Rep, DCA, Scottish Dance Theatre - and we have - well what?  The best arts organisation we have is Peacock ... and we are putting their future at risk if we go with CitySquare.

A peacock in the hand is worth a hundred times more than 490 car parking spaces in the bush.  And there are ways forward from Peacock that open up the gardens and link them with e.g. Belmont Street.  The compromise solutions have clearly be laid out by Peacock and their brilliant and hugely committed architect Edgar Gonzalez. 

Why won't Ian Wood add his money to the funds Peacock already have and make UTG brilliant.  

Make your voice heard!

Roe Deer

This roe deer was hungry enough to spend a lot of time snacking from one of my bird feeders.  After emptying the feeder, the deer browsed spilt seeds on the ground before finally losing its nerve.

They must be hungry to be so bold and therefore we need to be careful not to disturb them so they can conserve energy after this bad winter.

Masterplan for Menie

Now please don't confuse a picture with a masterplan.  But for what it is worth, this is what Trump put out to the press today with my annotations of what is where.

At the published scale is is difficult to tell what happens to the homes Trump does not own.  It looks like David Milne's Hermit Point is buried under an apartment block.  Mill of Menie is part under the first and is where the second golf course is planned.  And Leyton Cottage seems hidden by trees - perhaps a return to the Racho Palos Verdes tactic.

The main issue is of course whether the Masterplan includes the disputed properties.  And if so, whether the families who have made it clear they do not wish to sell will again be threatened with Compulsory Purchase. 

When that is settled, then I'll comment on the Masterplanning process in more detail.  But I'll be looking out for progress in the issues I highlighted to Gareth Hoskins back in September.

Robin Hood - Can good come from the banking crisis?

A small tax on banking transactions could yield enormous sums.  It's also known as a Tobin Tax.  Watch the video and perhaps sign the petition.
Petition text is
Dear Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg

It’s time for banks to pay their fair share.

We call on you to support a “Robin Hood Tax” on banks. It’s a small tax on high value transactions between banks that would raise hundreds of billions of pounds that would be used to fund action against climate change, poverty and other big issues in Britain and around the world.

Together we can turn the banking crisis into an opportunity for Britain and the world. Please support the Robin Hood Tax.

Budgets - when the going gets tough you can see where priorities lie.

As central funding gets tighter, the sustainability of Council tax freeze gets further called into question and the prospect of a George Osborne austerity budget looms, the stresses of Council budgets are starting to show.

Aberdeenshire has survived fairly well up to now.  Despite the low central government grants, good management and tight control has limited the pain.  And Aberdeenshire prided itself on maintaining standards in Education.  But now the prospect forwards looks grim.

For 2010/11, there was a funding gap of £10m and agreement between the LibDem/Tory administration and officers on how to find £6m.  That left us this morning trying to fill a £4.49m hole.

The LibDem/Tory administration proposed "realignment of budgets", heavily impacting Education as follows:

Life Long Learning & Leisure
  • £250,000 Cuts in support for Learners Auxillaries
  • £646,000 No increase in nursery school hours
  • £1,031,000 No provision of free school meals for Primary One to Three pupils.
  • £840,000 Saving from turnover and recruiting at lower salary levels.
  • £200,000 Undefined efficiency saving from Community Learning & Development and Libraries
  • £244,000 Cut in per capita allowances to devolved school budgets
  • £45,000 cut in health education
  • £85,000 5% cut in budgets for Sure Start and Community Network budgets
  • £200,000 Pre-school Education and Nursery (to be achieved by using Council school premises where possible)
  • £52,000 Cut in travel and subsistence budget.
and in other areas
  • £225,000 Community wellbeing -cuts in posts
  • £325,000 Reduction of funding to external partners
  • £132000 Cuts on day care provision
  • £14,000 Reduction in North East Chief Executive Forum funding
  • £60,000 Efficiencies in officer accommodation use and from WorkSmart
  • £100,000 Efficiencies from transferrring more services to Contact Centre.

The offical opposition, the SNP responded with a rather vague budget.
  • £2,429,000 Resource efficiency (£1,1020 target recurring underspends, £500,000 review end year flexibility, £500,000 redcue business mileage, £250,000 Shared Service opportunities, £150,000 Review methods of publicity)
  • £879,000 Workforce management (£500,000 vacancy management, £225,000 review staff absences, £150,000 review staff shift allowances)
  • £745,000 Capital funding adjustments (£500,000 reprofiling capital plan, £200,000 review treasury management, £45,000 sale of surplus assets)
  • £400,000 Procurment cuts (£200,000 reduce expenditure on consultants, £100,000 review software licences, £100,000 savings from corporate contracts)

As the details are nearly all expressed as round hundreds of thousands of pounds, I suspect the rigor of the analysis.  £500,000 from reprofiling the capital plan equates to £5m cut in capital spending and I'd dearly like to know where this was to come from.  The whole budget seems to me as just "we need to find the money so we'll just spread the pain around."

The Democratic Independent Group last year proposed a budget without "growth" items and instead with one-off spends designed to save money later.

This year, with the situation worse, we wanted to provide a breathing space by
  • transferring £3,500,000 of revenue spend in schools and roads to capital,
  • scrapping the unsuccessful unadopted roads scheme for £300,000,
  • anticipating a low rise in salary levels for most staff (£865,000) and mandating a freeze for senior officers (£90,000) and, in order to share the pain, cutting special resonsibility allowances to Vice Chairs (£25,000). 
  • We also believe that a cut in administration f £250,000 is achieveable
  • We also believe that we need to stop the drain on our Visitors Attractions and therefore proposed cutting £150,000.  This was done with some sadness - Archeolink is a great idea but its future needs to be independent of the Council.
  • We also cut £253,000 from the growth initiatives.

That then allowed us to put £653,000 into Spend to Save initiatives and add an extra £331,000 to balances in case the risks are even more adverse than expectations.

My ward colleague Rob Merson didn't understand our switch of revenue funding to capital.  Rob, Fergus could, I hope, explain that cutting £500,000 from revenue by reprofiling the capital plan does means that somehow about £5m of capital spending needs to be delayed.  What we proposed was roughly the reverse.   More alarmingly Jill Webster, Vice Chair of Infrastructure despite her long service as councillor also didn't understand this common mechanism.  

So, LibDems and Tories are prepared to sacrifice education.  The SNP don't know what their priorities are.  And the Democratic Indpendent Group aim to plan for long term savings and protect our most valuable services especially education.

But LibDem/Tory cuts in education it is.  What a future.

Police website consultation

The police are interested in hearing your views on the force website and have asked for the following to be distributed as widely as possible. 
Their text from here on ....
Grampian Police wishes to develop a new Force website that meets the needs of the people of north-east Scotland. You can help by answering a few questions about how you currently or might use the Force website.
Please look at the Grampian Police website and then complete the survey to let us know what you like or what you would like to change.
We would like to hear the views of as wide a cross section of our communities as possible so if you have any further contacts who may wish to contribute please forward this email on.
The survey can be completed by clicking the link below