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Angus budget voted through after marathon session

Angus House council HQ.
Angus House council HQ.

Angus Council’s administration secured its spending plans for the year ahead after a rancorous marathon budget session.

In a near six-hour virtual meeting, councillors clashed on issues including the controversial £13m Arbroath active travel plan and a south Angus recycling centre feasibility study.

The Conservative/Independent ruling group had previously revealed plans including a council tax freeze and the suspension of parking charges until the end of the current administration.

And although the respective administration and opposition budgets were broadly similar, arguments raged throughout the debate.

The 15-12 passage for the administration plans will see uncommitted reserves used to fill the £3million funding gap which the council was facing following efforts to tackle an £11m deficit in the £288m spending proposals.

Rainy year

Finance spokesman Angus Macmillan Douglas said: “This has been a difficult year for so many people due to Covid-19.

“Overall, the council has done brilliantly in maintaining its services to the citizens of Angus and introducing and managing additional humanitarian services which have provided real value for so many.

When facing this pandemic, we have been fortunate in that Angus Council went into it in a stronger financial position than did many other councils.

“This approach allowed us to build up reserves for a rainy day.

“The pandemic has given us all a rainy year, so we feel justified in using the money in this way,” said Mr Macmillan Douglas.

He suggested Angus was funded at a level of around £61 per head short of the Scottish average.

“If we were only funded at the Scottish average level we would be receiving an extra £7m for this next year.

“This consistent underfunding is very disappointing to say the least,” he added.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “In 2021-22, Angus Council will receive a total funding package of £237.9 million to support local services, which includes an extra £6.7 million to support vital day to day services, equivalent to an increase of 3.1% compared to 2020-21.”

Tay Cities

The finance spokesman highlighted areas including the £25.5m Angus fund in the Tay Cities Deal, ambitious plans for Montrose and 37% rate of council contracts being serviced by local suppliers as good news for the area.

A permanent investment of over £600,000 in children and families provision was a feature of both budgets.

But the ruling group was accused of “pulling a rabbit from the hat” over plans for an extra £1m towards roads maintenance – trumping an SNP group spend plan of £800,000.

SNP group leader Lynne Devine said: “For the second year running we have seen rabbits pulled from hats.

“This is sleekit. They have looked at our proposals and they have chosen to do that out of reserves.

“It doesn’t give me a good feeling,” she said.

New projects in the council’s capital plan include a £140,000 replacement boundary fence at Sandy Sensations in Carnoustie, £120,000 for Arbroath harbour protection, £285,000 for reservoir infrastructure repairs and a near £400,000 vehicle replacement programme investment.

Approval of the main budget was followed by further controversy around an amendment by Sidlaws SNP councillor Sheila Hands proposing a £500,000 contribution from the council’s Covid contingency fund for two projects to help looked-after children (£300,000) and a community resilience fund (£200,000).

It led to administration figures accusing the SNP group of springing a budget surprise, five hours on from the coalition coming under fire for the same things over roads spending plans.

Ms Hands’  motion was defeated, but councillors were told the main budget proposals already included reference to further reports coming forward on the distribution of any future Covid support monies.

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