Public to be given a say as city aims to make £120m savings

CASH-STRAPPED Aberdeen City Council will be forced to axe jobs and cut services as it battles to make £120 million in savings over the next four years, its leaders admitted yesterday.

They also announced plans to stage the biggest public consultation in Aberdeen's history to allow its citizens to have a say on where the axe should fall as part of a new business plan aimed at identifying council spending priorities until 2015.

Council leader John Stewart said it needed to save some 30m a year over the next four years. It expected its government grant would be reduced by at least 80m up to 2014-15. The authority would also face 40m of "additional cost pressures" over the same period.

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The business plan would be drawn up to "address the severe financial constraints on the public sector" and pinpoint spending priorities to ensure the council delivers essential services to the people and local businesses, he said.

Liberal Democrat Mr Stewart admitted further jobs losses among the council's 8,500-strong workforce and cuts to services were inevitable. "It is not just the numbers, it is 'where' as well," he said. "And until we go through the priority-based budgeting process that will not be clear.

"We are going to have to look at doing potentially less, either delivering fewer services directly and looking at working with other partners both in the public and private sectors, looking at the possibility of outsourcing, and ultimately we are going to have to take a long hard look at all the services we provide and see whether some of those services may be discontinued in the future. Clearly this will have an impact on our workforce and on our citizens."

He said the council was determined to move away from the "salami slicing" approach to reducing budgets towards priority based management.

Kevin Stewart, the council's deputy leader and an SNP councillor, said it planned to embark on the biggest public consultation exercise ever staged in Aberdeen to seek views on where the axe should fall.

He said: "It is not for councillors alone to decide where savings should be made. We want to hear what the public think we should be doing."

Tommy Campbell, regional organiser of the Unite union, warned that any move to cut jobs would be vigorously opposed.

"We saw two years ago massive protests in this city," he said. "I think, linked to what the government's doing and what the council is planning, I predict serious unrest in the next few years. I see strikes, I see community groups organising and campaigning against these cuts because there's talk in this document about an entrepreneurial approach for the voluntary sector as well."

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Barney Crockett, the leader of the opposition Labour group, also condemned the threatened cuts. "A lot of the staff gave up on this administration some time ago. Morale is already at such low point that it's hard to imagine it getting much worse. But that seems to be the intention of this administration."