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Moray

Rare show of unity in Council Chambers

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In a rare show of unity, Moray Councillors voted unanimously yesterday to approve the Council’s budget for 2019/20.

Whatever our views on the specific decisions taken yesterday, insideMORAY is pleased to see Councillors of all parties and none working together in the interest of Moray.

After months of work behind the scenes to find savings of £10.3 million required to balance the books, the budget brings the total amount of savings implemented by the council to more than £50 million in the last 10 years.

Council Tax will rise by 4.79 per cent and £3.3 million will be used from reserves, as Moray Council confirms it will receive £156.7 million this year in its grant settlement from the Scottish Government.

As a result of the savings approved, 84 jobs will be lost, with voluntary early retirement and voluntary severance being offered, alongside the Council’s Transform programme to redeploy staff within the organisation where possible.

The final £2 million of savings proposals for 2019/20 were agreed yesterday. They will result in a reduction in overtime for janitors, a reduction in school cleaning, an increase in commercial harbour fees and a reduction in funding for Moray’s Community Planning Partnership.

The closure of libraries, Gollachy recycling centre and the proposal to remove the active schools and sports development programmes were withdrawn. In addition, public toilets will remain open for the next 12 months, and music instruction fees will increase by 10%, not the 85% as previously agreed.

There will be significant investment in the Council’s improvement and modernisation plan, aimed at transforming services to secure the medium-term sustainability of the Council.

Leader of Moray Council, Cllr Graham Leadbitter, said: “Council officers have been driving efficiencies in services for many years and I commend their continuing efforts to deliver more for less.

“It is vital that in our decision making we look to investment in the future and that we maintain a strong foundation to build on. I am an optimist and I believe finances, over time, will improve, but we need to do things differently.”

He also took the time to thank local communities in Moray for the role they have played in helping secure services.

“I acknowledge the huge role that communities and individuals are playing – running town halls, community centres and toilet facilities, getting involved in locality planning work and, most recently, in the massive public response to our campaign for more FitLife? memberships. This has given us both the additional finance and the confidence of support for our leisure services to stop pool closures and keep our Active Schools programme in place. I cannot stress enough how important it is that those memberships are sustained and grown further.”

He said it is vital that the Council continues its medium and long-term financial planning to achieve financial sustainability.

“While budget projections are set out in the report, at this stage it is difficult to predict exactly how challenging future budgets will be – but we need to focus on clearly linking financial planning to our priorities, recognise the challenges that we will face and plan ahead.”

A summary of the key 2019/20 budget measures agreed by Councillors is set out below.

  • Staff reviewing and restructuring, including management posts and managing vacancies
  • Reducing overtime
  • Increased use of online services
  • Reducing building cleaning
  • Negotiating reduced fees with suppliers
  • Reduce admin grant for Area Forums and Community Councils
  • Reduce the award of discretionary rates relief to charities / businesses (as a result of this discretionary rates relief for charity shops has been withdrawn)
  • Introduce £36 annual charge for garden waste collection
  • Introduce charge to supply new builds with household recycling containers
  • Change opening hours of recycling centres. Recycling centres will open at 9am instead of 8am, Monday to Saturday.
  • Potential increased income from planning fees (set locally and nationally)
  • Introduce charge to recover cost of work for those not complying with planning enforcement.
  • Changes to approach for houses subject to house closure / demolition order to generate council tax and housing improvements.
  • Commercialise leisure service including increasing FitLife membership fees.
  • Cease grounds maintenance of privately-owned land.
  • Increase burial fees in line with Scottish average.
  • Introduce additional interment charge (burial fee) for non-Moray residents aged 18 years and above, from 1 April 2019.
  • Reduce grounds maintenance for cemeteries which have seen no burials for 10 years.
  • Reduce Speyside Way repairs and maintenance.
  • Reduce woodland management.
  • Reduce grass cutting in parks/seek sponsorship or other external funding for parks. This includes reduce grass cutting in Cooper Park, Grant Park, St Rufus Park, Lindsay Gordon Park, Cuthil Park, Buckpool Harbour, Alice Littler Park. A two-metre wide verge along path edges will be cut, with margins around play areas. This will comes into effect in 2020/21.
  • Reduce litter collection and shrub bed maintenance in parks as noted above.
  • Reduce grass cutting on rural footpaths.
  • Reduce the frequency of grass cutting in housing areas and open amenity ground (not cemeteries). A strip of grass will be cut adjacent to path/pavement edges.
  • Stop maintaining open grounds space on sites owned by non-profit organisations.
  • Stop maintaining open grounds space on the following sites where the owners are unknown:
    High Street (Buckie), Seatown Road (Lossiemouth), Fife Street (Dufftown), Green Street Area (Rothes), Hendry’s Green (Findhorn), Meikle Crook (Forres), Redcraig (Mundole), Woodlands Crescent (Elgin), West Street (Fochabers), Station Road (Garmouth), Station Road (Portgordon), West Road verge (Dallas), Garmouth golf course entrance, Steinbeck Road (Buckie), Redstone Play Area (Darnaway), village green (Tomnavoulin), Cliff Terrace (Findochty), East and West Beach (Hopeman), Auld Bridge (Keith), tennis court area (Craigellachie).
  • Charge staff for parking at HQ/Annexe in Elgin.
  • Introduce parking charges at additional locations Moray-wide.
  • Close museum service or transfer to Trust. If an external Trust cannot take on this service, it will cease in April 2020.
  • Reduce opening hours for out-of-Elgin access points, and reduce staffing levels at all access points.
  • Reduce primary school devolved school management budget.
  • Increase class sizes threshold to a maximum of 30 pupils in Primary 2 and Primary 3.
  • Reduction in secondary devolved school management budget.
  • Any uncommitted devolved school management budget as of 23 January will be allocated to general reserves fund.
  • Increase charges at Elgin Community Centre and revise staffing structure. Review in four months to see if savings are emerging.
  • Close Auchernack and relocate staff and services to Forres House Community Centre. Revise staffing structure at Forres House.
  • Reduce library opening hours in Buckie, Burghead, Dufftown, Fochabers, Forres, Keith and Lossiemouth. Cullen and Tomintoul libraries will remain open. Reduce book, audio visual, reference books and online resources budgets. Reduce library and learning centre staffing.
  • Remove Essential Skills service which provides free learning in reading, writing and numbers to adult learners in Moray.
  • Reduce ESOL service co-ordination, which provides support to Moray residents who don’t have English as their first language, to learn or improve their reading and writing, listening and speaking skills.
  • Increase charges for musical instruction in schools by 10%. Existing exclusions for SQA music students and those in receipt of free school meals will remain in place.
  • Reduce budget for musical instruments.
  • Reduce street sweeping.
  • Rationalise P1 gritting routes from 17 to 15.
  • Remove P1d routes from Priority 1 network. This will reduce the Priority 1 network for winter maintenance (including gritting) by 60km across 80 roads.
  • Increase harbour fees for recreational vessels at Portknockie, Hopeman, Findochty, Cullen and Burghead by 5 per cent.
  • Remove all remaining school crossing patroller provision.
  • Introduce a charge for school transport from the start of the 2019/20 academic year, only for those not entitled to statutory school transport. Cost per pupil £370 per academic year.
  • Reduction in Community Safety service including the removal of one community warden.
  • Reduce contractual overtime for janitors
  • Reduce funding for Moray’s Community Planning Partnership
  • Reduce school cleaning hours
  • Increase commercial harbour fees
  • Reduce operational grant to Moray Leisure Centre by £60k

 

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Moray

Lossiemouth milestone confirms work is on schedule

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Aerial view of the massive new Poseidon P8 Facility being built at RAF Lossiemouth. Photo by Flt Lt Iain Bright; Crown Copyright

The future home of the UK’s P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth is on target for completion. Once established the facility will hold up to three aircraft, along with maintenance facilities, planning rooms, and office space for the operators and support staff.

Images released by RAF Lossiemouth show the scale of the development so far. The project is part of a long-term initiative between the UK Government and Boeing, which will support the P-8A Poseidon in its roles of maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-surface ship warfare.

More than 150,000 hours have been put into the project so far, with the latest milestone involving the final beam being lowered into place as part of the main structure of the facility. Many of those working on the project are local to Moray, and it is expected that around 200 civilian jobs will be created in the local area once the facility is complete. Around 480 service personnel will form two Squadrons which will operate the P-8A Poseidon.

While the facility is under construction in the UK, crews on 120 Squadron continue with their training on the P-8A Poseidon at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.

Recently operating the P-8A off the east coast of the United States, a UK crew was instrumental in saving two men who had serious injuries. At the time the crew were hosting VIPs for a demonstration flight, but after picking up distress calls they changed course, assisting with the Search & Rescue operation while on-scene.

The crew acted as a crucial communications link between the agencies involved in the rescue, which included the US Coast Guard, and are credited with saving the injured men’s lives.

The first of the RAF’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft is expected to be handed to 120 Squadron towards the end of 2019, before making its first appearance in the UK in early 2020. The submarine hunter will help to protect the UK’s submarines, as well as the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. They will also work with the new Type 26 Frigates, which are currently being built in Scotland.

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Moray

Forres firm celebrates milestone with FSB award

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Louise Stewart, Director of Communications at FSB, Alan James of AJ Engineering, and Helen Robertson, of award sponsor Skills Development Scotland

A Forres engineering and construction firm has been crowned Scotland’s Employer of the Year at a glittering award ceremony held in Edinburgh.

AJ Engineering scooped the award at the 2019 Federation of Small Business (FSB) Celebrating Small Business Scottish Awards held in The Old College in the Scottish capital.

The Forres-based firm which is this year celebrating 20 years in business employs over 70 staff including 12 apprentices and has developed a reputation as one of the region’s foremost steel fabrication, steel erection and cladding specialists. It is also recognised as a supporter of continuous learning and apprenticeships.

Founded in 1999 by Alan James, who himself began his own career as an apprentice, AJ Engineering impressed judges with their continued investment in their employees and programme for developing and retaining staff.

Alan James said:I am absolutely thrilled to be taking this award back to Forres. There was such a high calibre of businesses in the Employer of the Year category, that we were just delighted to be nominated, but to be taking this award home really is something else. I want to acknowledge the staff, this award is for all of them and the apprentices who put so much in to the company and really do make it what it is. The FSB has recognised that as a company we are passionate and committed to investing in our workforce.”

He added: “I want to thank the FSB who saw fit to award us with the title and also who put on a superb ceremony. It was a fantastic day out.”

David Groundwater, FSB Development Manager said: “Right across Scotland there are thousands of small local businesses driving local growth, sustaining communities and creating jobs. AJ Engineering is a great example of a small local business doing not just one but all of those things, year-on-year.

“This year’s awards attracted a record number of applications and were reflective of the vibrancy, innovation and tenacity that makes up the small business community across Scotland. It’s been great to see so many businesses play such an enthusiastic role in our awards from such a diverse background and from every corner of the country. I wish Alan and the team all the best in their celebratory year and of course for the UK national Awards final in May.”

In November AJ Engineering won SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprise) of the Year at the Moray Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

AJ Engineering has series of events planned through 2019 to marks it milestone year in business. The main one is a fundraising ‘cycle’ for three charities, Diabetes Scotland (Moray branch), Marie Curie Moray and Fort William-based STAR for Harris.

Employees are being encouraged to take part in the virtual bike challenge covering 21,000 miles, the same distance as the average travelled completing jobs in one year.

AJ Engineering will now head to the FSB national final in London on 23 May.

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Moray

Council sets out budget proposals

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Council budget proposals have been published ahead of the Council’s budget meeting next Wednesday, 27 February.

The SNP group, who took over Administration of the Council last June, has been working with other political groups on the Council to address a £15.5M pound deficit.

A series of budget meetings have already seen over £10M of the deficit addressed with the remaining £5M gap to be dealt with on Wednesday.

Following a successful public campaign to raise membership of the Council’s ‘Fit Life’ leisure scheme, proposals to close swimming pools and to end the Active Schools programme have now been withdrawn, with proposals to reduce the Active Schools limited to cutting two part time posts, one of which is currently vacant.

Further work on budget savings and efficiencies, as well as the improved settlement from the Scottish Government have combined to allow the retention of most libraries, but with reduced opening hours.

It is unclear whether Cullen and Tomintoul libraries will close: the SNP press release mentions the retention of all libraries, but their closure is included in the report going to Councillors. Conservatives are calling for their retention.

A revised option on music instruction means that a proposed 85% increase in fees will now be reduced to a 20% increase, and the proposal to close Gollachy Recycling Centre in 2020 has been withdrawn.

Commenting SNP Council Leader Graham Leadbitter said: “The budget process that we have gone through has been the most challenging in the history of Moray Council and has been something of a rollercoaster. We have seen a very challenging budget position in the autumn become even more challenging in December.

“In the last month, we have had some welcome breakthroughs with persistent and innovative work from our Finance Team, support from other Groups on the Council backing our campaign to get more Fit Life Memberships to protect leisure services and an improved settlement from the Scottish Government.

“We have worked closely with Council officers throughout this process and that will continue right through to budget day and far beyond. As a result we are in a position now to propose that we keep all libraries open, significantly reduce the increase to music instruction fees from 85% to 20%.

“In addition to this and with support from most of the Councillors the successful Fit Life campaign has now generated more than 400 new memberships meaning we are able to keep all our swimming pools open and keep the Active Schools Programme running.

“That hard work and a commitment to cross party working from Independent and Labour colleagues has got us through a difficult time and a balanced budget with some of the toughest options now withdrawn is very much on the cards.

“I am, however, disappointed, that the main Tory opposition has chosen to share less and less information as we approached the budget and is now trying to claim credit on issues that were worked out on a cross-party basis to get a solution. I sincerely hope, going forward, that they will be willing to have a more open relationship with both the SNP Administration and other Group Leaders.

“When we took over Administration last June we said we would not walk away from challenging issues and we remain fully committed to the task at hand. We are grateful to the Independent and Labour councillors who have shown significant commitment to helping us achieve that and who have fully engaged in regular, open and frank discussions on a wide range of issues.”

In the meantime, Moray’s leading Conservatives have called for Tomintoul and Cullen Libraries to be saved.

Cllr Tim Eagle (Buckie Ward), Leader of the Conservative Group on the Council, said: “The Conservative Group, in its alternative budget proposals, has prioritised keeping Tomintoul Library open. The SNP administration does not seem to understand how important the library is to the local community. It is heavily used by the pupils of Tomintoul Primary School and many residents of this very rural area depend on the library for internet access. It would be a disaster for the people here to lose this facility. My Conservative colleagues and I are working hard to protect this last remaining public facility in the village.

“We also believe that strenuous efforts should be taken to preserve Cullen Library. Frankly, this proposal to axe these two libraries should not have been made and the sooner it is withdrawn the better.”

“It is ironic that the SNP are contemplating slashing library resources across Moray when, in opposition, they fought tooth and nail to protect them.”

Moray MP Douglas Ross is backing Cllr Eagle’s proposal, saying: “I have received many letters from children of Tomintoul School and concerned members of the community about this terrible proposal. They are absolutely right that every effort should be made to protect this much-used and valued service. I am delighted that Tim and his colleagues are supporting the communities in Tomintoul and Cullen, and they have my 100% backing.”

The agenda and reports for the Council meeting are available to view and download on https://moray.cmis.uk.com/moray/CouncilandGovernance/Meetings/tabid/70/ctl/ViewMeetingPublic/mid/397/Meeting/470/Committee/2/Default.aspx

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Moray

No car parking levy for Moray

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Cllr Graham Leadbitter

SNP Councillors in Moray have ruled out introducing the Workplace Parking Levy in the region.

Council Leader Graham Leadbitter says that while there is significant interest in a Tourist Tax, which he believes could have a ‘massive benefit’ for Moray, there is no obvious benefit from the introduction of a Workplace Parking Levy, saying it is more suited to larger cities, with extensive public transport infrastructure.

The SNP Councillor has also attacked what he called the ‘dishonest’ campaign being run by Conservative Councillors on the issue, which ignores the fact that it is entirely up to individual councils whether the levy is introduced in their area.

He also alleged that an online version of the Conservative petition which urged people to “sign our petition and make them think again” also stated in the small print that “we will not share your details with anyone outside of the Conservative Party” – meaning that their petition could not be presented to the Scottish Government or indeed to anyone else without the party breaking strict data protection laws.

Commenting further Cllr Leadbitter said: “While I very much welcome more choice on revenue raising for Councils in Scotland, clearly those additional powers also come with responsibility and Councils need to consider what is right for their own areas.

“The purpose of a Workplace Parking Levy is to take in money that can be reinvested in public transport to provide alternative means of travel. I can certainly see the benefits of that in larger cities, which have public transport options day and night. They also have park and ride options for commuters, so there is obviously an element of choice. That choice is not the same in more rural areas like Moray, where it would be impossible to provide easy access to public transport for people living in rural areas who commute into our towns.

“Moray Conservative councillors are actively campaigning against tax raising powers for Moray Council, which is basically saying ‘We’re not capable of taking decisions for Moray’. If that’s their view they should make way for those who are capable and stop talking down the role of Local Government.

“I welcome the choice to use additional powers but one of the most important decisions you can make is when not to use a power. In this particular case SNP Councillors do not believe this would be the right choice for Moray.

“There is a much bigger debate to be had on Tourist Tax however, as that has the potential to generate millions to support tourism infrastructure, promote our region and support major events in Moray.”

Moray MP Douglas Ross thinks the decision by the SNP-led administration of Moray Council not to take forward the workplace parking tax proposals put forward by the Scottish Government is the right one, and is asking for the tourist tax to be also ruled out.

Mr Ross said: “While I welcome the decision locally by the SNP not to introduce the car park tax, it shows how out of step the SNP Scottish Government are when their own party at a local level are distancing themselves from these plans. What we now need is for the SNP administration on Moray Council to take a similar approach on the tourist tax because it is clear from the Federation of Small Businesses, local accommodation providers and many others how damaging this tax would be for this crucial sector in Moray.

“The SNP Scottish Government received almost £1 billion extra revenue from Westminster at the most recent budget and they should concentrate on adequately funding local councils rather than expecting people to pay higher taxes for receiving fewer services.”

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Moray

Moray MSP in calls for branch closures rethink

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Richard Lochhead MSP (centre) outside Lossiemouth BoS branch with community campaigners Carolle Ralph and Mike Mulholland

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has called on Bank of Scotland to reverse plans to close bank branches in Moray, after Lloyds Banking Group unveiled a huge increase in profits for the year.

Lloyds Banking Group, which owns the Bank of Scotland, announced a 13% increase in annual pre-tax profits, reporting that operating costs remained broadly steady over the last year.

As reported on insideMORAY, Richard Lochhead MSP has been working with local communities and others to campaign against the closure of branches in Lossiemouth and Keith.  The closure of Lossie branch will leave the town without a single bank.

Mr Lochhead has held talks with Lloyds Banking Group and has urged them to reverse plans for closure.  The MSP also sought an intervention from the UK Government who has responsibility for banking regulations.

Mr Lochhead said: “News that Lloyds has seen profits rise over the last year forces us to question whether the planned bank closures in Lossiemouth and Keith are really necessary.

“Local people and businesses depend on having access to their high street bank and the loss of face-to-face banking will hit the most vulnerable people in Lossiemouth.

“It is not acceptable that Lossiemouth is set to lose its last bank in town whilst at the same time the Lloyds Banking Group announces increasing profits.

“If the Bank of Scotland is interested in growing its customer base and building trust, it should abandon plans to close branches, including those in Moray that are earmarked for closure.

“It is particularly galling for Bank of Scotland customers in Lossiemouth to see the bank abandon the community when it was public money that bailed them out in their time of need.  Now that the banking group is making these big profits, the least they could do is commit to keeping these local branches open.”