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Councillor Blackett Calls for Flexibility in Furlough Scheme

>> 30 April 2020

A councillor has made a call for some flexibility to be introduced to the UK Government’s furlough scheme at today’s virtual meeting of the full Aberdeenshire Council.

Councillors were discussing the response to Coronavirus during which Cllr Geva Blackett (SNP-Aboyne, Upper Deeside & Donside) requested the UK Government be asked to make adjustments to the furlough scheme.

Cllr Blackett used the example of a local community business engaged in heritage and tourism where being able to have their single furloughed worker spend the 20 per cent of their time they are not being paid for to safely engage in preparatory work for when restrictions are lifted would be beneficial to both the business and the community.

Speaking during the virtual meeting, Cllr Blackett said:

“Employers are able, as we know, to claim back 80% of a furloughed employee’s salary up to a £2,500 per month ceiling. Employees are not allowed to do any work for their employer while furloughed however if their contract allows, they can go and take paid employment elsewhere.

“Quite a number of employers are topping up those salaries with the remaining 20% and this is where I believe there needs to be an amendment. Many businesses, particularly those in tourism, could actually do with having someone working that 20% that they are paying for.

“I have written to the Scotland Office and the Leader of Aberdeenshire Council reiterating what I hope will be viewed as a constructive suggestion to aid and assist local businesses during this time.”

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Gordon MP Thomson Stands Down As An Aberdeenshire Councillor

>> 24 April 2020

SNP MP for Gordon, Richard Thomson, has written to the Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council to formally tender his resignation as a councillor for the Ellon and District ward of the local authority.

Mr Thomson - a former newspaper journalist - was elected as the Member of Parliament for Gordon at the December 2019 UK General Election. He was first elected to represent Ellon & District on Aberdeenshire Council in 2012 and served as the Vice-Chair of the Council's influential Scrutiny and Audit Committee from 2012-2015, before being appointed as Co-Leader of the Council in June 2015 at the head of a minority administration - a position which he held until the 2017 local government elections.

During that time, he oversaw a comprehensive review of the council's decision making processes; co-signed the Aberdeen City Region Deal; and introduced a business rates relief scheme to support local small businesses through the 2017 revaluation - the only one of its kind in Scotland.

Since 2017, Mr Thomson has led the main SNP/Labour Opposition Group on the council - a position he stood down from two weeks ago to be replaced by Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford Councillor, Gwyneth Petrie.

Speaking following his announcement, Mr Thomson said:

"It has been an honour and a privilege to have had the chance to serve as a Councillor for Ellon and District and as a member of Aberdeenshire Council. I'd like to thank everyone I've worked beside over that time who has helped me along the way and made it such a worthwhile experience.

"When I was first elected, it never occurred to me that I might end up leading the council just three years later. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to try to make the Ellon & District ward, as well as Aberdeenshire, a better place to be, and to be able to have helped so many people along the way.

"Since 2017, I've also thoroughly enjoyed leading the council opposition and helping a new group of councillors to find their feet. Under the leadership of Cllr Petrie, I know the group I'm leaving will be in excellent hands.

"Now the council budget process is completed and my SNP Group colleagues have had a chance to elect a new leader, the time is right for me to step back from the council and concentrate 100% on being the MP for the Gordon Constituency.

"While my role might have changed, my determination to make the North East and Scotland the best they can be most definitely hasn't. I look forward to continuing to work alongside all Aberdeenshire Council colleagues as we deal with the current pandemic and everything beyond."

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Aberdeenshire SNP Group Elect New Leader

>> 8 April 2020

Cllr Gwyneth Petrie, who represents Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford, has been elected as the new leader of the SNP Council Group in Aberdeenshire.

The vacancy arose following the election of the previous Group Leader, Cllr Richard Thomson, as the MP for Gordon. Cllr Stephen Smith will remain in his position as Deputy Leader of the SNP Group.

Cllr Petrie has been a Councillor since 2015, when she was elected in a by-election.

Commenting, Cllr Petrie said:

“It is an honour to become the Leader of the SNP Group in Aberdeenshire.

“I’m stepping into this position at a deeply challenging time for Aberdeenshire, and all of the people who we represent here. Our priority at this time absolutely has to be steering Aberdeenshire through this pandemic, and that will rightly mean working collaboratively with colleagues across the Council. We, as a group, stand ready to do that.

“Once we are through this pandemic, then we can focus once again on delivering the priorities of our group, which have been well established under the excellent leadership of Cllr Thomson, and continuing to hold the administration to account.”

Offering his congratulations to Cllr Petrie, outgoing Group Leader Richard Thomson said:

"I'd like to offer Gwyneth my warmest congratulations on her election. She's someone who since her election has earned great respect both inside and outside the council in her community. I know she'll do a fantastic job in holding the current political leaders to account as we prepare to offer SNP leadership of the council once more.

"It has been an enormous privilege to have served as SNP Group Leader since 2015 and to have had the opportunity to lead the SNP Group into administration for the first time in the council's history. I am pleased to have been able to play my part in shaping Aberdeenshire for the better as both council leader and opposition leader and to be able to hand over a group which is in good health and which is once again the largest group on Aberdeenshire Council.

"Clearly, the present pandemic has put politics as usual into abeyance for the time being. However, I know that under Gwyneth's leadership, the SNP group will continue to show that it has the ability, the commitment and the understanding of how the council works to be effective public servants and to do what needs to be done for our communities in the period ahead."

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Opposition Comment on Aberdeenshire Budget

>> 18 March 2020

Aberdeenshire Council’s SNP/Labour and Communities opposition group presented their budget at today’s meeting of the Full Council.

Among the funding priorities announced by the Partnership Group were an additional £850,000 for community resilience to tackle poverty and hunger; to combat social isolation; to improve health and well-being and focus on suicide prevention; and to support small business start-ups.

A further £850,000 was budgeted to help tackle climate change through the development of innovative local schemes with community involvement - including community-led energy-efficient housing schemes; green space projects/tree planting; community composting; renewable energy projects and the sharing of best practice.

Over £280,000 was earmarked for participatory budgeting to support the development of community transport and active travel and initial work on transport hubs. Amounts were also included to introduce decriminalised parking enforcement, restoring the Area Committee budgets for local initiatives to £104,000, and also becoming an accredited Living Wage employer.

Introducing the budget proposals, Cllr Alison Evison said:

“We find ourselves in unprecedented and highly uncertain times, and so we proposed our opposition budget today knowing that the Council may be forced to stop doing some things, and start to work in a totally new way. Flexibility will be key in the coming days, weeks and months.

“The budget which we have today proposed is one which promotes equality and social justice, seeks to tackle poverty, develops connectivity, promotes local businesses, protects our workforce with a living wage accreditation, provides the security of no compulsory redundancies, helps to close the attainment gap, and supports the vulnerable.

“Running through our priorities is a strong commitment to participatory budgeting – ensuring that communities can have a direct say in some of the spending of the local authority and putting an emphasis on the importance of the priorities of the communities we serve.”

Cllr Richard Thomson, Leader of the Opposition, added:

“It has become increasingly clear over the last few days that there will be no ‘business as usual’ for the Council, and our priority in these difficult times must be to protect our most vulnerable.

“Our budget represents strongly our priorities and the direction we believe that Aberdeenshire Council must take once business returns to normal. We have been clear in our commitments to protecting our communities, our workforce, and the climate. Today was not the day to argue these points, but we must – and will – return to these issues as soon as we are able.”

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