Angus is open for business

John Devlin 28/01/15. Money , cash , pound coins , economy , bank notes , bank , debt , inflation , cost of living , profit , loss.
John Devlin 28/01/15. Money , cash , pound coins , economy , bank notes , bank , debt , inflation , cost of living , profit , loss.

Angus Council’s open approach and its ability to adapt to change is paying dividends for its staff, its taxpayers and its burghs.

That was the message delivered on Monday in Forfar at a pre-budget media briefing with council leader Iain Gaul and Councillor Alex King, finance spokesperson.

As the authority enters its second 12 months of a three-year budget plan, the elected members confirmed there would be no “surprises” or “rabbits pulled out of the hat” yesterday (Thursday) at a full council meeting in the Town and County Hall, when the provisional revenue budget will be considered.

What they did reveal was a far more open budget process with the council working as a business - and this is paying dividends.

Councillor Gaul’s message was “Angus is open for business - we will welcome business from anywhere”.

He was referring to the up-take of business space at the Brechin Business Park, which is now full for the first time, and that a more flexible approach adopted for attracting new business to the Orchardbank Business Park in Forfar has also attracted interest from companies.

Speaking at Angus House, situated within the latter, Councillor Gaul said: “We can offer businesses Forfar, we can offer businesses Arbroath and there is an Agri-park at Paddy (Padanaram).

“I don’t care where the businesses comes from, they are more than welcome.”

Councillor Gaul added: “The council is getting run as a business and our product is the services we provide to the people of Angus.

“That’s not a new message, that has been there since day one, and eventually everybody will accept that.

“We are delivering first class services throughout the Angus area and we will continue to do the very best we can with what we have got.”

Councillor King explained the council’s £242 million budget was focused on improving the quality of life for the people of Angus. It was changing the way it did business to ensure it achieved its goals with less money, and a cross party approach had been taken to the budget.

He said: “In February 2014 we unanimously agreed a three-year savings package for the period 2014-17. Our 2015-16 Provisional Revenue Budget sets out the saving/cuts schedules for 2015/16.”

Councillor King said the council was in the process of implementing the £19 million package of savings/cuts for 2014-17, agreed last year. The three-year savings strategy was still on track with £5.6m of saving/cuts scheduled for 2015/16, and £6.8 million in 2016/17.

He continued: “Some 2015/16 savings are being pushed back to 2016/17. These include review of housing support/sheltered housing (£781k) and various waste related savings. Conversely, some savings have been achieved ahead of schedule, including changes to the community meals service and the youth justice team review.

“We will meet requirements regarding teachers, most specifically our teacher-pupil ratio target and council tax will be frozen for the tenth year in Angus.

“All of the extra grant for new responsibilities for free school meals, childcare, self-directed support, etc. is being allocated in full to the services. Almost £5 million is proposed for investment into adult services, learning disabilities, waste, fleet, winter maintenance, broadband in rural schools, etc.

“Just under £2.9m has been set aside to help support our ‘spend to save’ change programme and over £12 million is proposed for our ‘contingency funds’ to deal with essential property, roads, and IT repairs and investments, and corporate funding demands such as pay awards, living wage etc.

“Investment in our school estate (Brechin High, Forfar Community Campus and the Arbroath Schools Project) is still the most significant capital plan expenditure, along with Brechin Flood Prevention Scheme, our zero waste obligations and some investment in our commercial units.”