We all know that Local Government spending is under severe pressure, and this was no more keenly felt in our sector than when this year’s local council budgets were set back in March.
We knew that organisations and communities would be facing cuts, however the means by which many of these decisions were taken left little opportunity for the public, and the third sector to have their say on the proposals, with some organisations finding themselves with 100% funding reductions without any notice. The resultant upset and public outcry was a further blow to the already turbulent relationship between the third sector and the public sector in Aberdeen. What was clear, was that there was an issue about transparency in the process and a lack of means for public involvement in the decision making process.
ACVO were very clear about communicating our views on the matter to all Councillors before the last budget meeting, and followed this up with discussions in the following weeks and months. Our hope was that there would be a change in the way that the Council approaches the budget setting process in the future to allow organisations to have a say in decisions which affect them, and to allow them time to prepare for any changes to their funding.
We are therefore very pleased to welcome Aberdeen City Council’s newly agreed budget protocol which will allow people a greater say on the city’s spending priorities in the future. Under the new process, the public and other key stakeholders will be asked for their views in a two-phase consultation period ahead of final annual budget setting in which they will also be able to gain a better understanding of the financial choices facing the council. The purpose is to try and find common ground and to co-design a budget which addresses the needs of everyone.
Going forward, the first phase of public engagement will gather information on the public’s main priorities in terms of where budget allocations should be made. The findings will be reported back to Councillors to allow them to begin preparations for their own budget proposals. In the second opportunity for engagement, the public will be able to see the full, detailed budget options and have their say on how the Council might balance their books. This will give everyone a chance to see exactly what is being proposed and to have their say in advance.
Our sector and our Council are partners in the drive to make Aberdeen a happier, healthier, more equal place to live and work, and this is a great step towards a closer understanding between the public sector and the communities they serve. We need to get away from the narrative that its “them against us”. It is an easy trap to fall into and we have all been guilty of it at some point. Although it may not feel like it sometimes, in reality we all want the same thing for our city.
ACVO is committed to building on our long-standing partnership with Aberdeen City Council as we work together for the benefit of our city. As a responsible partner and the voice of the Third Sector in Aberdeen, it is our duty to point out where we think the Council might take a better course of action. We are pleased to see this new Budget Protocol take shape and will continue to promote the interests of our sector to improve outcomes for our communities.
Phase 1 of the Budget Consultation is open now until 31 July at this link. Please take part!