The local authority in Aberdeen has been accused of abandoning one of the city’s most deprived communities by axing all funding for a flagship music tuition project.
Aberdeen City Council unveiled its budget proposals for the year ahead on Wednesday and its plans include withdrawing financial support for the Big Noise in Torry, which works with more than 750 children and young people each week.
The council previously signed a partnership deal committing it to continuing financial support for Big Noise, which was brought to the city by Sistema Scotland in 2015.
Nicola Killean, the charity’s chief executive, described the decision to withdraw funding as “devastating”.
She said: “We are sorry the administration chose not to listen to the many pleas from community members who heroically rallied round in support of the programme, and believe its judgement of the impact Big Noise is having is short-sighted.
“We will now have to assess the full impact of this shocking decision, and we are appealing to anyone who can support us to donate to the future of Big Noise Torry.”
Sistema Scotland also refuted claims by two local councillors for the Torry/Ferryhill ward – Lee Fairfull and Christian Allard – who suggested Big Noise has had “no impact” and has “not delivered” on early years intervention, long-term outcomes for children, and narrowing the attainment gap.
A long-term evaluation of the longest-running Big Noise in the Raploch area of Stirling by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health has shown that the programmes help children reach their full potential.
The programme in Torry works with nursery and primary school-aged children at its partner primary schools – Walker Road and Tullos – and with babies and toddlers in Little Noise.
Big Noise Torry, which has 30 members of staff and seven volunteers, also works with secondary-aged pupils from Lochside Academy and supports children who live in the area but attend school elsewhere.
Alongside Torry, Sistema Scotland runs Big Noise programmes in the Douglas area of Dundee, Govanhill in Glasgow, Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, and in Raploch and Fallin in Stirling.
Last week, Dundee City Council’s majority administration withdrew all funding for the programme in Douglas.
The decision to close the Torry programme came as Aberdeen City Council announced on Wednesday it is to increase council tax by 5% from April in an effort to plug an estimated £46.6m financial black hole.
Members of the SNP and Liberal Democrat ‘partnership’ included the 5% increase as part of its first budget.
Ahead of the meeting, the SNP ruled out a proposed 10% hike that would have resulted in the council receiving an extra £12.9m.
Officers argued the 10% rise would “provide protection for cost and demand increases” in the years ahead.
They also said the additional income would improve the council’s sustainability.
SNP councillor Alex McLellan, who is also convener of the finance and resources committee, said: “Our operating budget stands at £540m for 2023/24.
“Inflation is running at around 10% – that impacts massively on the cost of delivering services upon which we all depend.
“Demand is increasing, notwithstanding our efforts to find efficiencies, and where we can offset our expenditure by reasonably generating income we will do so.”
The council’s budget decisions have sparked anger and concern, with people gathering to protest in front of Aberdeen’s Town House on Wednesday.
Insight Louise Hosie Reporter
The council’s budget has now been approved – the SNP/Liberal Democrat administration’s motion passing by 24 votes.
That confirms a 5% rise in the city’s council tax – half of the 10% that was originally proposed.
It’s also been confirmed that the Fairer Aberdeen Fund will remain in place despite fears it would close. The fund is allocated by Aberdeen City Council to tackle poverty and deprivation
However, funding has been cut for the Torry Big Noise orchestra. When I spoke to them a short time ago, they said they were devastated as it makes up most of their annual budget.
The debate today was heated at times – with councillors clashing in particular over the Big Noise decision.
Council leaders say this is a budget that’s radical without being reckless – others argued that it was stripping away vital services.
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