Council agrees pioneering annual carbon budget

In what could become a pioneering move for councils across the UK, Aberdeenshire Council has agreed to give its carbon cutting budget the same status as its financial budget. The proposal, which won unanimous support from all political parties on the council, would see both budgets set at the same full council meeting.

The formal decision on carbon budgeting was taken at the Aberdeenshire full council meeting on 10 March and made headline news in the regional paper.

The measure is the proposal of Green councillor Martin Ford (pictured above) and his Democratic Independent colleague Paul Johnston who hold the balance of power on the Scottish council.

Unlike in England, Scotland’s 32 unitary councils have a legal duty to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets (42% by 2020). But Cllr Ford said: “In recent years, Aberdeenshire has consistently overspent its annual carbon budget and underspent its financial budget”.

The authority’s annual carbon reduction decisions have until now been made, effectively in private, by a small sub-committee. Now it is proposed to elevate this decision to the most important meeting in the year – the one where the capital, revenue and housing budgets are set by the full council.

This, said Cllr Ford, would allow all elected councillors to be involved and ought to ensure that carbon reduction measures were financed.

He explained: “Some measures to reduce carbon emissions – such as improving energy efficiency of buildings – will incur capital costs, but also deliver revenue savings. So all the budgets ought to be considered at the same meeting and be consistent with each other.”

The deal appears to be proof that a “confidence and supply” voting deal agreed between Aberdeenshire’s Labour/SNP/independent coalition and the two councillors last May is working.

The council had been run by an anti-SNP alliance of LibDems, Tories, Labour and Independents but the balance of power was shifted in May when the two Labour councillors and two Independents decided to ally themselves to the SNP group. The new multi-party alliance needed two more votes to give them control and they asked Ford and Johnston for support.

The pair declined to join the new administration but demanded a dozen policy commitments as the price of their limited voting support on key measures, effectively a confidence and supply arrangement.

“We have had six years of our motions being defeated by 66 to two,” said Cllr Ford, “We were keen to change all that.” However he believes that the SNP leader on the council does now “get” climate change.

The 12 commitments they demanded included four to ensure support for the local community and residents, four on measures to address climate change, and four on improving transparency and democracy. One, demanding the council take £250,000 from its annnual road maintenance budget to invest in cycling and walking has already been approved in the latest budget.

The full list is below and is worth studying for those Greens drawing up county council or unitary authority manifestos. In England a minority of local authorities have set up voluntary “carbon management plans” to cut carbon over a certain time frame but many of these are not being implemented.

COMMUNITY

1. No cuts to the community, learning and development budget already agreed.
2. Encourage suppliers of goods and services to the Council to pay at least the living wage to
their employees.
3. Invest at least £100,000 p.a. into preventative local health and social care services,
specifically to fund voluntary-sector organisations in Aberdeenshire, funded through efficiencies from within adult social care services.
4. Consider the voluntary-sector in any council contracts put to tender

CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY

1. Re-open the Dyce to Ellon railway line, subject to favourable cost:benefit analysis.
2. Include transition to a low carbon economy as a specific priority for economic development.
3. Move at least £250,000 p.a. from roads maintenance to supporting cycling and
walking.
4. Make a commitment to producing zero waste by moving towards a circular economy, as a
first step demonstrating how Council offices can remove recyclable materials, unnecessary
plastics and compostable waste from the waste stream.

GOVERNANCE

1. Remove barriers to the submission and debate of motions from individual councillors.
2. Record unseconded motions in the minutes.

3. Consult the public on budget proposals.
4. Bring community engagement up to national standards.

en_GBEnglish