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Moray Tories' council shake-up plan branded 'naked power grab'

By Alan Beresford

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A RADICAL shake-up of the way Moray Council is led proposed by the Conservative group has been slammed.

Moray Council Conservative group leader Councillor Tim Eagle. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Moray Council Conservative group leader Councillor Tim Eagle. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

The group, led by Buckie councillor Tim Eagle, is proposing a cabinet system of government designed to streamline decision-making and facilitate a programme of modernisation.

This follows the publication of a critical report by Audit Scotland on the council’s performance and the resignation from the SNP group of one of its councillors leaving the Conservatives the council’s largest group.

The Tories went on to state that they are keen to use this opportunity to seek administration in order to bring a renewed focus on change.

Councillor Eagle said: “There is no doubt our recovery from coronavirus must continue to be our number one priority moving forward, especially with what looks like a worrying winter ahead.

"However, it is very difficult to ignore the very concerning best value report which cited concerns over educational attainment and performance in health and social care amongst other areas. Whilst Covid-19 recovery must remain a priority we must also ensure the council has the structure in place to allow clear and decisive leadership and decision making.”

“The SNPs time in administration has largely been wasted with very little achieved. Moreover they have completely failed to put any pressure on their colleagues at Holyrood to give Moray a fair financial deal.

“We need change and feel that as the largest group we are best placed to lead, but we would rely on the support of other councillors if we are going to get anywhere as we lack a majority on our own,

“The Conservative group wish to ensure that education, the economy and the environment are key priorities ensuring the public voice is a key component of change moving forward.

“We have that opportunity now and we wish to grasp it. The recent best value report raised strong decision making and strong leadership as very important.

"To that end we have made the suggestion that Moray Council review its core governance structure to a model widely used by the SNP and Labour across other councils in Scotland. It brings clear leadership, strong decision making and most important of all clear scrutiny and performance monitoring roles for opposition councillors."

Councillor Eagle added that his group had sought the views of other elected members, with some having "responded positively".

However, this was denounced as a "naked power grab" on the part of the Tories by SNP council leader Councillor Graham Leadbitter, who stated they should be concentratig their energies on the current pandemic emergency.

Councillor Graham Leadbitter, said: “We are in the middle of a pandemic with a hugely worrying second wave of infections, which has already had major public health and economic impacts and the Tories' focus is on a massively disruptive course of action that would take council officers away from the critical emergency response work.

“In the first year of the current council term the Tory group showed no ability to work constructively with their Independent colleagues and walked away after a year leaving Independents holding the baby.

"Less than a year ago they walked away from cross-party budget work. It is a bit rich for the Tories to talk about ‘wasted time’ with that backdrop and when the SNP Administration has delivered two balanced budgets and a range of strategic interventions in Moray by working with other groups and compromising to make progress.

“This most recent proposal would not only divert huge amounts of officer time away from emergency response but is also profoundly undemocratic and would alienate and exclude 15 out of 26 councillors from critical decision making. Instead it would allow a Tory Group with just nine out of 26 to have six out of 11 on an executive cabinet.

“It is an exclusionist plan that would see a minority group of Tory councillors, described by one of their own former members as 'right wing extremists', able to force through decisions while hiding behind a so-called ‘rainbow light’ alliance that actually excludes 60 percent of councillors. It sidelines the majority of councillors from other groups, who would have minimal representation in a key decision making body.

“In contrast the SNP are committed to working with other groups and negotiating on a range of critical issues. We do not take anything for granted and fully expect to be challenged.

“The council’s auditors recently said they could see ‘green shoots of recovery’ for Moray Council during the time of the SNP being in administration. We are determined to nurture and grow those shoots while the Tories seem determined to uproot them and take the council backwards.

“This is a naked power grab from a party that has a shocking track record and inability to work effectively with others. Two years ago they walked away from responsibility and now they are walking away from democracy in Moray.”

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