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Forres councillors explain decisions in Moray Council budget vote

By Garry McCartney

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Councillors George Alexander (2nd from left) and Lorna Creswell ( 3rd from left) at the budget meeting.
Councillors George Alexander (2nd from left) and Lorna Creswell ( 3rd from left) at the budget meeting.

FORRES councillors have explained their votes on the local authority's budget announcement for 2020/21.

Moray Council is to carry on its programme of cuts to public services - further savings totalling £189,000 across the next two years include a £42,000 reduction in funding for Moray Women's Aid; charging for SQA music tuition in schools; £60,000 less funding for Moray Leisure Centre; and stopping £75,000 funding for the NHS mental health support team.

Council leader Graham Leadbitter (SNP, Elgin City South) explained: "Last year we had to identify £10m in savings, while this year the savings target is just over £3m of which the vast majority of that target has already been achieved as a result of decisions taken by the council."

The Scottish Government awarded Moray Council an extra £1.62m in the national budget.

However, the council's SNP administration has agreed to increase council tax by 4.84 per cent, equating to inflation plus three per cent, to address the budget deficit and reduce the need for savings.

George Alexander (Independent, Forres) believes his term has coincided with "what must be the worst time possible to be a councillor".

He said: "It has been almost eight years of reduced funding from central government, increased demand for council services, particularly in children’s services and social care, and an inevitable reduction in many council services.

"The only good thing about the budget this time was that we relaxed the restrictions on grass cutting which had caused such an adverse reaction from so many."

He added: "Criticism of the increase in council tax charge is short-sighted as we have a considerable gap predicted in the budget for 2021-22. Having suffered a nine-year freeze on council tax it would be folly not to use the powers available to increase the council’s income."

Fellow local independent, Lorna Creswell, agreed with the administration's budget proposals after extra funding afforded grass cutting and, possibly, keep public toilets open, issues she believes are of high importance to the community.

She said: "The council tax increase was necessary in readiness for next year's fiscal responsibilities when there will be very low reserves. There were very little differences between the SNP and Conservative proposals for the budget."

Councillor Claire Feaver.
Councillor Claire Feaver.

Meanwhile, Claire Feaver (Conservative, Forres) believes asking people to pay more council tax in return for fewer services, "flies in the face of what is reasonable".

She said: "I am particularly concerned about those people who do their best to go out to work, are just above the benefits line, and can't afford above-inflation rises . The Conservative group voted to restrict the tax rise to three per cent but we were out-voted.

"Moray gets a poor deal in terms of our financial settlement compared to other areas and that is compounded by the attitude of the Scottish Government to councils in general. Their funding from the UK Government has gone up but they have refused to pass that increase to us, which is why the cuts are being made."

Councillor Aaron McLean deep in concentration at the budget meeting.
Councillor Aaron McLean deep in concentration at the budget meeting.

Cllr Aaron McLean (SNP, Forres) explained that the council tax hike will raise an extra £800,000 for the cash-strapped local authority.

He said: "We have tried to re-invest the money by re-introducing grass cutting throughout the area and keeping our destination parks looking wonderful with the help of community groups such as Forres in Bloom.

"With help from my independent colleagues in Forres, we have also committed to keeping the toilets in Grant Park open beyond the end of this summer.

"We will have a new nursery ready to be opened in Pilmuir by the next school year, plus leisure services in Forres will continue as normal after a lot of speculation over their future in previous years."

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