Combining Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils

Combining Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils is an idea that has been doing the rounds in recent years. But, it was given renewed impetus by former Aberdeenshire Council Chief Executive, Alan Campbell, when he promoted it as a solution to the financial woes in the aftermath of Aberdeen City Council’s proposed £127 million cuts.

I am not sure about the idea. Clearly the two councils – both languishing at the bottom of the central government funding tables – need to take decisive action to balance the books. But, we have already experienced two substantial re-organisations of local government in the past 35 years.

  • In 1975 it was decided that there was a need for two tiers of local government. Larger regional authorities would look after services for the regions of Scotland and, in turn, these areas would be broken up into district councils to deliver specific local services.
  • Twenty years later, in 1995, we decided it had all been a terrible mistake and we re-invented the idea of a single tier of local authorities responsible for the delivery of all local services.

Your place or mine? The two councils could occupy one HQ.

Are we going to decide 15 years later that we want to change our council structure all over again? Each of these re-organisations must surely, in themselves, have been costly exercises. How much saving in staff and office costs did we actually achieve by disbanding Grampian Regional Council and replacing it with unitary authorities?

Certainly there would be economies of scale to be made by purchasing and organising services on a larger scale. There are also services, notably transport and infrastructure, which would really benefit from a wider geographical perspective.

But could these economies and that wider planning perspective not be achieved by Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils working together, without having to amalgamate the authorities? It is, after all, already happening with the likes of the Aberdeen City and Shire local plan.

Would a combined authority not also take local government further away from the people, which would not be in the interests of democracy.

  • I can see the scope for constant bickering that councillors from Kennethmont, Rosehearty, or Auchenblae, cannot be expected to really understand the needs of the city.
  • Equally Aberdeenshire communities would be frustrated that the city had an in-built majority on the new council, leading to accusations that the interests of rural communities were not properly represented.

Maybe heritage and history considerations should not be considered in the current urgent need to answer the financial crisis.

But, I would think it very sad if centuries of Aberdeen local government were to be swept aside for what is, hopefully, a relatively short-term issue.
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