Looking to the future following budget and climate change decisions

Last week’s City Growth and Resources Committee meeting included a number of significant pieces of business that will shape the future of the Council and the city.

The first, as highlighted in advance, was the report on the 2020/21 budget. Members noted the approach being taken and have the context for the decisions they will make in March when setting priorities at the budget meeting.

There are clearly challenges to be met but also opportunities to continue to improve, embracing the advances that digital technology brings in every area of operations.

Further updates will follow at team and cluster level as we move through the next stages of the budget cycle, with detailed options to be presented in the spring.

The report to committee reiterated our desire to have more certainty about our financial position in the medium to long term – central funding is currently allocated year to year by the Scottish Government and we are not alone in seeking a change to that approach.

On the theme of taking a long term view, committee also supported the Aberdeen Adapts strategy on climate change.

Measures to safeguard people, place and the economy are identified and it is a very important piece of work. My appreciation goes to all who were involved in shaping the strategy and for the ongoing work to ensure the Council is leading the city’s response to the very real issues we face in relation to climate change. That includes the many partners and stakeholders who supported our officers in preparing such a comprehensive framework, with Sinclair Laing, Alison Leslie and their team leading the project and our wider work in this area in Gale Beattie’s Strategic Place Planning Cluster.

The necessity to act now was highlighted by the independent Economic Policy Panel in its annual report and to underline our commitment a motion at last week’s meeting was agreed by councillors to develop a new Net Zero Transition Plan, designed to encourage investment by both the Scottish and UK governments in a low carbon future in Aberdeen.

The city, for so long the oil and gas capital of Europe, is rapidly becoming a centre for energy transition – harnessing the expertise and skills we have to innovate in the race to net zero.

That theme ran prominently through the panel’s annual report, with the overarching message one of cautious optimism for the city and region’s economic outlook.

The findings pointed towards the latest data showing the north-east economy stabilising after challenging times. Recent indicators suggest that growth – albeit modest – is likely to have returned during 2018 and 2019. Employments levels and earnings have also increased in the past 12-months, but there is acknowledgement that a lot of hard work remains in front of us as we aim to build momentum.

In their report, the panel members underlined the continuing significance of the oil and gas sector but stressed the need for diversification within both the energy sector and the wider regional economy.

Challenges identified included the transition to a net zero emissions economy and population ageing, with the panel calling for bold action across the public, private and university sectors.

As ever, Aberdeen will be at the forefront in acting on the recommendations and the Council will be a driving force.

Whilst there is much political uncertainty at present, what we can be sure of is that all parties are committed to energy transition and we are also seeing growing support in our communities, the business sector and all parts of society. We will use  the work we’ve done to date as a springboard for further positive action, as evidenced in our climate change report, to support the city and the Council’s transition.

What’s also certain is that demand for council services continues to look like it will outstrip available funding and therefore the focus within our budget options on continuing to reshape the council is vital. Throughout 2019 we have continued to lay very solid foundations and in 2020 we’ll carry on building towards a sustainable and vibrant future.