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'Shire Council Co-Leader Welcomes Business Rates Move

>> Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Commenting on today's announcement by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay which further extends the support available to businesses following the recent revaluation of business premises by the Independent Assessor, Aberdeenshire Council Co-Leader Richard Thomson said:

"This is extremely good news for the North East. I've had a number of discussions with the Finance Secretary over the past few weeks about the impact of the recent revaluations om Aberdeenshire businesses, particularly on the hospitality sector. Mr Mackay has clearly listened to what businesses in the North East have been saying as well as to the strong case put forward by the council’s leadership, and has come back with a further tranche of support for business.

"This is a substantial victory for the lobbying which went on in public by the business community and in private by SNP politicians. It shows what can be achieved by reasoned argument rather than the sound and fury we’ve seen from the Tories, who have voted against mitigation measures at every turn both locally and nationally.

“Aberdeenshire Council is currently inviting views from local businesses on how best to shape our own £3 million local relief scheme. Today's announcement boosts what was already a substantial package of support for North East businesses and will allow us to assist more businesses across more sectors than would otherwise have been the case."

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Thomson Welcomes Narrow Budget Win - 'Aberdeenshire Schools Saved from Swingeing Tory/Lib Dem Cuts'

>> Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Ellon & District SNP Councillor Richard Thomson has welcomed the approval of Aberdeenshire Council's budget for the year ahead, describing it as “good for schools, communities and businesses.”

The budget, which passed by a margin of 33 votes to 32 in the face of opposition from the Conservative and Lib Dem 'Alliance', will support local services worth £546 million and the delivery of an ambitious £132 million capital programme for building new schools, leisure centres and roads projects. Councillors also passed a 'carbon budget' to help monitor and reduce CO2 emissions – making Aberdeenshire the first local authority in Scotland to do so.

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Thomson hailed the additional £3m earmarked by the administration to provide business rates relief. He also severely criticised the alternative budget on offer from the Tory/Lib Dem led 'Aberdeenshire Alliance', which if passed would have seen multi-million pound cuts to the education budget and the use of over £6 million of council reserves simply to balance the books for the year ahead.

“This is a budget which is good for schools, communities and businesses”, said Cllr Thomson.

“The 2.5% increase in Council Tax will raise £3.1 million for local services, which contrasts sharply with the £3.2 million which the 'Alliance' were prepared to take out of the education budget in order to continue with a council tax freeze.

“If the Alliance proposals had passed, it would have meant cuts in teacher numbers; pupils being told that they could no longer take certain SQA exams; deep cuts to pupil support and the end of instrumental music tuition. Thankfully, Aberdeenshire schools can now look forward to stability in their budgets, along with additional resources to support teacher recruitment.

“After nine years of complaining about the council tax freeze, it's incredible that Alliance members were prepared to inflict cuts of this scale on our schools instead of accepting the sort of modest tax increase that they have called for in every other year.

“It is the responsibility of any opposition to present credible plans for what they would do if they took office. The Tory/Lib Dem opposition should be embarrassed to have served up such a barely-competent piece of slash-and-burn accounting, especially one which relied so heavily on use of reserves.

“Budget day offered further evidence – if any were needed – that the political divide in Aberdeenshire Council is between a competent and credible administration of the SNP working in Partnership with Labour and others, or a Tory-led opposition which with each passing day looks less and less able to meet the demands of office.”

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Tory MSP Called Out on Mental Health Service Claims

Aberdeenshire Council has refuted claims made by Tory MSP Peter Chapman that a new mental health service is excluding people, insisting that the new service will be equitable across Aberdeenshire and provides a more person centred service.

Following the awarding of the contract for a new ‘Mental Health – Pathways to Recovery’ service last year, Aberdeenshire Council has been working with provider SAMH as they roll out the new service across Aberdeenshire.

It was commissioned to provide a community-based mental health service and to promote the achievement of a mentally well and inclusive Aberdeenshire in which people who experience mental illness are enabled to recover and achieve their personal outcomes.

It provides more equitable services across north, central and south Aberdeenshire; to target service provision more appropriately to individual risk and need; and to support people who experience mental illness and help them enjoy mainstream activities alongside other members of the community.

Co-Leader of Aberdeenshire Council Cllr Richard Thomson said:

“It is simply not true to say people have fallen through a chasm and been forgotten about as has been claimed. Everyone who has registered with the new service has been contacted by SAMH and we continue to urge anyone who requires support to register with SAMH.

"If for any reason they do not want to register with SAMH they can contact our Community Mental Health Teams who will support them.

“We of course acknowledge that some existing services users remain anxious about the change of provider and new model of delivery, but there are many advantages of the new services which will be more personalised, more recovery focused, better linked to employability, accessible seven days per week, and is available across Aberdeenshire as a whole.”

Cllr Anne Allan, Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee added:

“The new service is about helping people to recover and supporting them to achieve their outcomes. A buildings based service restricts the number of people who can access the service. If people cannot attend the building at the time it is open then they are excluded from the service.

"When developing our modified service specification we were made aware that many people especially in rural areas who wanted help were unable to access the previous service model. We now have a service which is accessible to all. I completely understand that people are nervous about change but I would urge them to speak to SAMH or Community Mental Health teams so we can support them on the road to their recovery."

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Blackett Hails Start of Ballater Old Royal Station Redevelopment

Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside SNP councillor Geva Blackett has hailed the start of the project to reinstate Ballater’s popular Old Royal Station, destroyed by fire nearly two years ago.

The B-listed building, owned by the council, was historically used by the Royal Family travelling to nearby Balmoral Castle and was hit by a fire which broke out in May 2015.

The building had been leased to VisitScotland for the last 15 years and housed a Visitor Information Centre, restaurant, museum, clothes shop and photography business.

Although much of the building was severely damaged by the fire, a replica Royal carriage survived, as well as various undamaged display cases.

Aberdeenshire Council committed to rebuilding the station and subsequently submitted a successful planning application to the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

There will be changes to how the internal space will be used – both the Visitor Information Centre and the restaurant will return and these will be joined by a library and an enhanced exhibition space. The Royal Carriage will be reinstalled as one of the main attractions.

The project, expected to cost in the region of £3million, is expected to be completed in December of this year, all being well.

The principle elevations of the original building will be reinstated matching the Victorian architecture and detailing, including Queen Victoria’s Waiting Room.

Commenting, Cllr Geva Blackett said:

“This marks the start of the restoration of this iconic building that plays such an important role in Ballater and indeed the whole of Royal Deeside. Watching the first turf being dug makes me hugely optimistic that the fortunes of this beautiful village have turned a corner.”

Aberdeenshire Provost Hamish Vernal marked the start of the project by cutting the first turf with a ceremonial spade and wheelbarrow used to start the construction of Ballater Railway Station by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company in 1865. He said:

“Ballater has had a tough time lately. The fire was a terrible tragedy along with the devastation suffered as a consequence of Storm Frank.

“However, I can see real progress with many shops open for business again and more and more residents returned to their homes. Therefore, it is great to see another milestone achieved through the start of the construction work to redevelop the Old Royal Station.”

Morgan Sindall area director, Mark McBride, said:

“Morgan Sindall has a successful track record of delivering public sector projects and we’re proud to have been selected for one that has such significance to people not only in the local area, but across Scotland as a whole.

“It’s our first contract awarded through Aberdeenshire Council’s main contractor framework and we’re pleased to get work underway.

“Ballater Old Royal Station has a rich cultural history and is integral to the region’s tourism industry. We’re mindful of the need to retain as many of the original heritage features as possible during the restoration process and confident that the finished building will be well received.”

The station was opened in October 1866 by the Great North of Scotland Railway and was the nearest station to Balmoral Castle. It closed in February 1966.

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