Rare show of unity in Council Chambers

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Gollachy recycling centre and the proposal to remove the active schools and sports development programmes were withdrawn.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