Following the demise of Banff and Buchan District and Grampian Regional Councils there has been many changes in Local Government. Over the years with significant budget cuts and removal of council responsibilities, the council is seen as responsible for delivering most if not all public services however council services are increasingly limited due to central government control, budget constrains and the transfer of powers to other national bodies. In many aspects this limits councils delivering core services despite the attempt to bring different services round the same table, in reality each one has its own priority.
Further centralising of powers and administration is planned. This is in contrast to the pledges given for greater local democracy and community empowerment. Instead of delivering manifesto policies to reduce the number of national quangos, here in Aberdeenshire we are over loaded with public resourced organisations often duplicating if not triplicating similar services.
The role of a councillor has also changed with many powers now delegated to officers. Councillors are constantly reminded they have no operational role but councilor duties include financial scrutiny and in order to do this councillors must be informed to evaluate service delivery, control and monitor budgets, a daily aspect of their responsibilities and accountability to the electorate.
Making decisions whilst following the public pound, ensuring services are delivered efficiently and appropriate to meet the needs of constituents and in line with council policies, councillors should not be constrained in having as much information as possible. The balance between the councillors role, the expectation of the communities councillors serve against operational delivery can lead to tension between councillors and officers.
Despite large investment in the school estate, committed prior to the current administration, many of our rural schools have been under resourced in investment to ensure they are fit for purpose as a teaching and learning environment and to attract teaching staff. There needs to be policy change such as walking distances to schools to ensure there are safe routes to school, adequate drop off and collection points. A simple solution to reduce cars would be to install shelters for parents etc. to wait for their child and not have to stand in the cold and wet. All pupils should have the same access to services no matter where they live so there must be assurances we deliver Getting it Right for Every Child.
There are a number of services in crises, from teacher and doctor shortages, medical centres closing, local ambulances dragged away to serve the city, all these are severely impacting our communities.
The demand for council housing across Aberdeenshire is overwhelming. With low interest rates and the downturn in the energy sector, developers and the construction industry are looking for work. An opportunity was missed to take advantage of this window of chance to build hundreds of new homes. With the major construction work on the Aberdeen bypass due for completion, many construction workers will be looking for new work.
In the north we have a high dependency on council housing compared to other areas of Aberdeenshire. Much of our housing stock is much older therefore more investment is needed.
When Banff Chalmers Hospital was redeveloped the plan was many more health care services and screening would be provided locally. Unfortunately less is being done locally in some areas of local services.
The closure of Ladysbridge Hospital, Campbell Hospital, Rose Innes Home have come at a great cost to the local health and wellbeing provision. The impact of these closures has never been appreciated by not only local parliamentarians but both the health board and council. We have plenty sites for the construction of new health care provision, sheltered housing or specialist homes for people who should not be hospitalised but still need specialist care.
It is evident with the economic decline, Aberdeen City is the priority compared to Aberdeenshire businesses. To survive the current challenges and assist companies to take advantage of opportunities, there needs to be more focus in delivering economic support and investment with urgency and clear milestones. We have the resources from agriculture, seafood, food and drink, technology, engineering and tourism, to transform the Grampian economy but the potential will not be achieved without clearer measurable goals.
The Business Rates fiasco clearly highlighted a lack of appreciation of the damage to investment plans and in fact some defended the position hoping it was a story that would go away. Even with a stay of execution following the last minute token intervention by both the government and the council, companies will still have to lay off staff, curtail investment or contemplate relocating away from the North East.
The North East economic plans are being delivered with a city focus through the City and Shire Deal and Opportunity North East. Aberdeenshire Council needs to raise its game to ensure Aberdeenshire receives equity in support. The City Deal was drawn up shrouded in secrecy and only recently it was publically declared Aberdeenshire was ploughing £ms into supporting Aberdeen Harbour infrastructure at the same time increasing rates for services such as sports and leisure facilities here in Aberdeenshire.
Our major asset is our workforce. More has to be implemented to plan for economic tsunamis to ensure our highly trained workforce are not left hoping and waiting for the next oil boom coming over the horizon.
There is much more can be done to add value to our products and enable businesses to have a competitive advantage over others located elsewhere in the UK. Despite the remoteness from national and international markets, we have the best quality produce but need investment to enable and reduce manufactured overheads through lower energy costs and distribution hubs. Local produce in many cases is trucked south for further processing. Investing in the infrastructure to grow capacity, add value and reduce the carbon footprint will bring many benefits to the North East economy.
People in the North East have a great ability to rise to any challenge but this is often constrained by process and administration burdens within the council and other public agencies. Businesses have to meet the demands of their customers, market changes and consumer trends. They have to react quickly or they will lose their market share. With latest technology and communication tools the council has not adapted to the speed of change the private sector has had to cope with. Despite over 14,000 employees some aspects of council work can take many many months to come to a decision consequently new businesses have moved outwith the North East.
Grampian is saturated with economic agencies and strategies. It is time to deliver, creating a new economy, maximising the value of our raw material and products, generate new employment, increase the wage economy and to invest in infrastructure to increase our manufacturing capacity.
Please elect me as I have proven I can deliver, I listen, I only represent the wishes and needs of my community for the greater good of Banff and District and am not afraid to stand up and be counted. If elected I will be the peoples person, not an establishment councillor, one defending his constituents over party priorities.