Drastic Council cuts proposed could be just the beginning

Moray Councillors discussed a range of proposals to deal with the Council’s budget deficit at their meeting yesterday (Wednesday).

The measures proposed would take council’s budget deficit down by £2.4m. Budget Day for the Council in on 27 February and councillors and officers are continuing with their efforts to address the remaining gap of over £5m.

Current proposals are expected to lead to a reduction of around 110 posts across a range of services, while a range of areas will see an increase in investment to reflect changes in the priorities the Council is required or wishes to address.

Areas of investment include: Health & Social Care, Early Years care, social housing, growing Moray’s Economy, especially through work on the Moray Growth Deal, and new schools.

Areas where efficiencies, service reductions and charges are proposed include:

  • Looking for communities to take on the remaining public toilets
  • Closing some libraries and reducing opening hours of others
  • Increasing charges for harbour users and music instruction,
  • Removing school crossing patrollers,
  • Reducing the community warden service, grass and roads maintenance programmes,
  • Reduction in the priority of some winter gritting routes
  • Charging for out-of-zone school transport,
  • Removing the Active Schools, Essential Skills and ESOL programmes,
  • Reduction in Classroom Assistants and increased class sizes
  • Closing Elgin Community centre and relocation of Auchernack Access Point in Forres to Forres House Community Centre
  • Leisure Services
  • Reduce cleaning in schools and street sweeping
  • Introduction of new car parking charges in larger towns and at beaches

Speaking after the meeting Moray Council Leader Cllr Graham Leadbitter said: “The Council is facing a very challenging set of circumstances with a range of issues coming together to put pressure on our budgets for local services. There are several things coming together to make this the most difficult budget we have faced. Austerity budgeting from Westminster is a major contributor to these issues, as was the decision by the Tories to abandon the Council Administration.

“Other contributory factors are the growing pressures on the health service, which is being prioritised and supported with funds coming out of other areas including local government, reserves being at their lowest level for many years and significant budget pressures in some areas of Council services, such as care services.

“Ensuring we are providing that funding for vital Health & Social Care services and investment in and expansion of Early Years services for younger children, mean that there are very challenging decisions facing councillors.

“I am grateful that other Group Leaders have been working together with our Administration Group in the last few months to address this very challenging budget position and we will continue to work with others, wherever possible, to find a sustainable way forward for the council. We will leave no stone unturned as we approach budget day on 27 February to mitigate against the impact of the budget proposals we are having to consider.

“Many of the proposals to reduce spend are things that we, as councillors, would hope we would never have to do but we have a legal responsibility to balance the budget, even in these challenging times. We know that many people across Moray will find these proposals difficult, but we will do all we can to mitigate the impacts.

“One area where there is some hope of reprieve, and which I am asking the Moray public to help us with, is the proposal to close 2 swimming pools. Our pools are significantly subsidised but if we can get a strong boost in our Fit-Life leisure membership in the coming month then it is proposed closures that could be prevented.

“Just a few hundred family memberships across Moray out of tens of thousands of households would increase our leisure income by enough to protect our swimming pools. Fit-Life is exceptional value for money for families and I would urge people to ‘use it or lose it’ when it comes to our pools.

“In the midst of this, however, we have not lost sight of the increasing importance of growing Moray’s economy, provision of affordable housing, supporting our care services and ensuring children get the best start with early years investment. We must also maintain our ambition to make the council sustainable by transforming our services through our modernisation and improvement programme and with the support of senior officers and other councillors we can achieve that for Moray.”

Commenting on the proposals after the meeting, Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “These cuts to our public services put forward by the SNP administration show they would rather see local facilities lost than stand up to Nicola Sturgeon and ask for more money for Moray.

“It will not be lost on anyone in Moray that the SNP have opposed library closures in the past, but now support them.  Fought against local toilets being shut, but now propose to close them.  These are just some of the examples of double standards each and every SNP representative in Moray is guilty of.

“The closure of Lossiemouth and Keith swimming pools is a bitter blow and I know how well used they are.  Richard Lochhead says he’s fighting to stop banks closing in these two towns, but what will he do to stop these swimming pools being closed by his own SNP colleagues?

“Our thoughts also have to be with the staff who have received the news that facilities where they work, and in many cases have nurtured into successes, will be closing.  I know my Conservative colleagues in the council did their best to stop these cuts today.  It’s also so frustrating that some of these savings may actually cost more in lost revenue and at the same time the top level of managers remains untouched.  The SNP message is clear; they will reduce the services provided to taxpayers in Moray but won’t reduce the senior management at the council.  That is simply shocking.

“I won’t accept these swingeing cuts and will redouble my efforts to secure a better deal from the Scottish Government for Moray Council.  Now is the time for Richard Lochhead and all the SNP councillors to show their priority is to Moray and not the SNP.  They have to demand more for our area before these cuts are finalised.”

Council Leader Graham Leadbitter wrote to Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy & Fair Work at the Scottish Government earlier this month to ask for more money for Moray and more flexibility in how Councils can allocate their budgets.