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‘Fit Life’ leisure scheme, proposals to close swimming pools and to end the Active Schools programme have now been withdrawn, with proposals to reduce the Active Schools limited to cutting two part time posts, one of which is currently vacant.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in fees will now be reduced to a 20% increase, and the proposal to close Gollachy Recycling Centre in 2020 has been withdrawn.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