Lib Dem response to the Scottish Budget 2012

Some good news in Willie Rennie’s letter this afternoon. Let’s hope some of the benefits will be seen in our local area soon.

Dear Iris

I am sending this short note to update you on the outcome of the Budget voted on in the Scottish Parliament today.

My colleagues and I have been in detailed discussions with Scottish ministers for some time to secure improvements to the Budget. Today saw some fruits from that work. As a result the Liberal Democrat MSPs were able to support the Budget. It’s not perfect by any means, but good enough to vote for.

You may have seen in the news that the Scottish Government has produced, at the eleventh hour, extra money for colleges to reverse their proposed cut in student support and increase the money going into colleges.

You will know that, week after week since September, I have challenged the First Minister and his government to do the ‘right thing’ for colleges. I have even shown him where he has the extra money available from the UK Government to make it happen.

This year is the year when Scotland’s colleges need us most, and we need colleges most. They give opportunity for all, they tackle social inequality and they work for every community.

That is why Liberal Democrats put them front and centre for support in this Budget. That pressure has paid off. Thousands of students will benefit.

I am also pleased to say that we have had some success in persuading the SNP to increase investment in affordable housing. This is something that many party members have asked me to give high priority to. The same is true for early intervention which has been a longstanding campaign for our party.

It doesn’t stop here. Our challenge over the months ahead is to make sure that the Scottish Government is fully focused on tackling the economy and unemployment.

I will keep you up to date as we go forward.

Best wishes,

Willie Rennie MSP
Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Aberdeenshire Council to set five year budget

Councillors will also meet next Thursday to consider a five year budget for Aberdeenshire Council and agree a balanced budget for the next three years.

Councillors will be asked to agree a budget of £548 million to deliver a range of vital local services to the residents of Aberdeenshire over the next year.

In a report prepared by the Head of Finance, councillors will be asked to agree a series of Scottish Government policy initiatives. If agreed, the Council’s grant will be maintained at the level announced by the Government in December last year, and commit the council to delivering a council tax freeze for 2012/13, maintaining police and teacher numbers, a contribution to Change Funds and a re-profiling of capital funding.

Last year the council agreed to deliver £52 million of savings across all services, which included reviews to make the council more efficient, as well as some reductions to services. The council continues to progress this and these savings will be delivered by the end of 2012/13.

In considering a five year budget, the council will be in a good position to prepare for future challenges and restrict the impact that budget reductions have on local communities. At the meeting, councillors will be asked to consider options for making further savings in future years.

The Scottish Government has announced indicative settlement figures for the next few years, which reveal a £10 million shortfall for Aberdeenshire Council by 2014/15.

The council is making preparations now to relieve the impact on communities of these shortfalls and officers will recommend that underspends that are currently being forecast should be used to reduce the pressure in later years, along with other proposals for delivering service efficiencies.

Councillors will discuss the budget proposals at the meeting of Aberdeenshire Council on Thursday 9th February 2012.

Aberdeenshire Council to set housing budget

Councillors will meet next Thursday, February 9th 2012, to set the council’s housing revenue budget, including rents and charges for the next year.

In line with the council’s main budget, councillors will be asked to consider a five year financial plan to ensure that the organisation is well prepared for the challenges ahead.

They will be asked to support a recommendation to increase council house rents by an average of £2.59 a week, which has been supported by tenants through consultation activity that has taken place. This should ensure that Aberdeenshire rents continue to be below the Scottish average.

It is proposed that rents should be increased by RPI plus 2% for 2013/14 and 2014/15, subject to consultation with tenants and a review of the business plan.

The proposals will contribute towards the implementation of the 30-year housing business plan where there is continued investment in housing stock to meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard.

Councillors will also be asked to consider a range of other charges including sheltered housing charges, heating and lighting, garage rents and temporary accommodation. Most charges will rise in line with inflation, although increases to heat and light charges in sheltered housing are proposed to be restricted once again.

Since 2006, sheltered housing tenants have been protected from sustained energy increases by restricting increases in charges to 10% a year. With energy prices predicted to increase to 17.5% over the next year, councillors will be asked to restrict the heat and light charge to 12.1% and the council will continue to invest in delivering energy efficiencies across its housing estate.

Councillors will also be asked to support changes to the pricing model at Greenbanks Travelling Persons Caravan site, with a single charge of £64.35 for up to two stances.

Councillors will discuss the plans at the meeting of full council takes place next Thursday 9th February 2012.

Feedback from School Estate Consultation

The feedback from the session at Westhill Academy held on 10 January 2012 can now be viewed here:

http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/buildingimprovements/WesthillPresentation.pdf

It is clear that local authorities do not have the money available to provide all of the services they would like to due to depleting budgets. With increased wealth and quality of life, people’s expectations are also now higher. At the recent School Estate Consultation organised by Aberdeenshire Council, conflict between the two ideals was apparent.

While pupils and parents feel that more money should be spent on upgrading school buildings, toilets being a recurrent complaint, teachers remain committed to providing the educational stability for their charges but at the same time acknowledging that a pleasant environment is important to learning.

A balance therefore must be struck to meet increasing aspirations from a reducing pot of money.

Local authorities must work with local communities to pull out the stops which currently prevent groups such as Parent Councils who are keen to get involved to make improvements to their school. If such groups want to, for example, re-decorate classrooms during holiday periods, current Health & Safety requirements make it impossible to do this. I see no good reason why parents cannot be allowed to help improve their children’s learning environment. In many cases senior pupils are prevented from these activities for the same reasons. Perhaps even helping out with younger pupils’ after-school activities has too much red tape restricting volunteers getting involved.

Closing schools which are not cost-effective is an emotive subject. Every parent wants to choose which school their child attends. While local authorities look to find better ways to spend public money, communities need to be flexible and consider the concept that it might be unfair to other service users that a small group present a higher per-head cost to the education budget. It could be the case that if money is being spent on keeping small schools open, repairs and maintenance will not be possible in other schools. There are also the social benefits of learning within a larger group of peers to consider. Meanwhile, local authorities need to weigh up the loss of jobs for local school staff and the impact of a school closure on that community.

Whichever way the council decides to cut its cloth, it must be tailored with all these things in mind and a “one-size fits all” approach should not shape our children’s future.

Carnie All Weather Pitch – have your say!

 

The all-weather football pitch at Carnie was provided through planning gain when the first phase of housing was developed at Leddach Grange. The original plan was to have a couple of turf pitches and some sort of pavillion. The plans were then changed to have the main pitch surfaced with an all-weather material which did not leave enough funds for a pavillion. Four short years ago, I remember the pitch being flood-lit, good-sized goals in place with the older teenagers playing football quite happily at one end with the younger kids being able to join in or play on the other half. The youngsters took responsibility for switching on and off the lights and I think this system worked very well. It was a good community facility.

Since then, someone in their wisdom decided that the youngsters were not responsible enough to manage the lights and the developers switched them off and padlocked the control box. On a recent visit to the pitch, I noticed it is looking a bit tatty and the goals would look more at home in a nursery playground.

I know all the leisure facilities in Westhill and Elrick are being looked at to see if they can be better managed and used more efficiently. How would you like to see the AWP being managed? Who do you think should run it? Should it be a free-for-all or should a booking system be used? Would you like to see some sort of pavillion or changing rooms provided? Please comment below or send me an email with your thoughts.  

        

Big Energy Week Monday 16th – Saturday 21st January 2012

 

Rising fuel bills are stretching household finances and people are looking for ways to save money on their energy bills.   

To help consumers spend less on heating their home Citizens Advice is coordinating an advice campaign called Big Energy Week (16-21 January 2012) which will see thousands of people across the country get practical help and advice to cut their fuel bills and get all the financial support they are entitled to.

Big Energy Week is supported by consumer organisations such as Consumer Focus and Which?, charities, the Government, energy suppliers and switching websites.

As part of Big Energy Week there will be events up and down the country where people can get practical advice on how they could spend less on heating their home.

Reminder: Echt road closure starts Monday 16th January

The B9119 Aberdeen to Tarland road will be closed from Echt Primary School to Myriewell Cottages for six weeks to allow work to be carried out at a housing development.

Diversions will be in place during the work, directing motorists along the crossroads at the B9125 Garlogie to Raemoir Road and the B977 Kintore to Echt roads (click on the link below to see map).

http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/roads/traffic/pdf/b9119echt160112.pdf

New freedoms for Credit Unions welcomed

Over recent weeks the media has highlighted  a morally-bankrupt lending industry with pay-day loan companies being accused of  mis-selling and low-earners being charged 150% more for household goods on the high street.  Recent survey results from Shelter have shown that over 1 million people have taken out a pay-day loan to help pay their mortgage or rent in the last 12 months.

I have long been an advocate of credit unions. Credit unions have been promoted for many years within  NHS, Police and emergency services staff rooms as they offer low cost loans whilst encouraging savings to grow at the same time. Any profit stays within the organisation and the credit unions are regulated by the FSA meaning the first £85,000 of savings are safe should they fail.

The main changes just announced will mean savers and borrowers stand to gain as credit unions can now offer a viable alternative to banks. It will now be easier to become a member as joining rules are being relaxed, i.e. membership will not be restricted to certain occupations as mentioned above. Membership will no longer be limited to individuals but open to community groups, social clubs and local authorities. Credit unions will now be able to pay interest on savings rather than a dividend linked to annual performance and we should see these rates being published on best-buy tables making it easier for members to compare their credit union with banks and building societies.

Credit unions have not taken off in a big way in the UK in contrast to being a huge success in countries such as Australia, Ireland and the United States. I think if local groups and agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing associations and local authorities could work in partnership with credit unions to promote their services, we could see more of their branches open in the high street and outreach services provided in the more rural areas. Judging by the local statistics for people currently accessing debt and money advice, they would get a huge welcome.

Time to dispose of your Christmas tree thoughtfully!

Ok, I admit to cheating and my Christmas tree gets pulled apart section by section and stuffed back in to it’s original B&Q box taped together by an annually added multi-layer of parcel tape, sellotape or whatever kind comes to hand at the time in my haste to get on with the year ahead!  For those more traditional souls, although there are no kerbside collections of Christmas trees in Aberdeenshire, you can recycle them free of charge at Household Waste & Recycling Centres.

Inverurie, Souterford Road, AB51 0TP

  • Standard hours From 12th December 2011 :
    Monday to Sunday: 9am to 5pm
    Tuesday: 5.00pm to 8pm (April to September)

Westhill, Westdyke Avenue, AB32 6QX

  • Standard hours From 12th December 2011 :
    Monday to Sunday: 9am to 5pm
    Tuesday: 5.00pm to 8pm (April to September)