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Tory leader Tim Eagle rejects 'power grab' claim by Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter

By Chris Saunderson

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A BITTER war of words has blown up between the SNP and Conservative group leaders on Moray Council.

Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

The leader of Moray Council and head of the SNP minority administration, Graham Leadbitter has accused the Conservative group of a "naked power grab".

Cllr Leadbitter has levelled the charge at the Tories over the party's proposal for a 13-strong executive cabinet, which is 50 per cent of the 26-member council.

The nine-strong Conservative group is in talks with four independent councillors about forming an administration.

And Tory group leader, Cllr Tim Eagle, has accused his SNP counterpart of "being out of touch with reality".

For the last two years the SNP has run a minority administration following the collapse of a previous Conservative-Independent coalition.

Cllr Leadbitter said: “This is a naked power grab from a Conservative Group that walked away from the previous coalition and have since walked away from cross party working on budgets.

"It seems that when the going gets tough the Conservatives exit the room and now that things are improving again they want back in."

However, Conservative group leader Tim Eagle said the move was designed to make Moray Council one of the most democratic in Scotland and address concerns raised in a recent Audit Scotland report.

He added: "This is a bit of a nonsense, mainly because we have not even put forward our proposals yet. Currently we are looking to work with four independents which makes 13 of 26 councillors, that would be 50 per cent of the council and we will propose to modify our original cabinet proposal to include 50 per cent of the council.

Conservative group leader Tim Eagle. Picture: Eric Cormack.
Conservative group leader Tim Eagle. Picture: Eric Cormack.

"That makes our proposal one of the most democratic executive structures in Scotland, and this is exactly what Audit Scotland were looking for in the recent critical best value report."

The collapse of the previous Conservative-Independent coalition handed control to the SNP as the largest group on the council at that time.

The SNP currently has eight members, with nine on the Conservative benches, one Labour and eight independents.

Cllr Leadbitter said that since taking over the administration, the SNP have turned the council around, gaining support for two budgets and putting the authority on a "much more even keel".

"Other major achievements of the last couple of years include a management restructure, major ongoing work on children’s services, setting up a cross party group on climate change, which has led to the climate change strategy currently being consulted with the public, a school estate strategy, also being consulted on and investment in schools and the Moray Growth Deal.

“The SNP has taken some very big decisions in the last couple of years, working closely with other councillors and with officers to get the council into a much better shape.

“Those efforts have been recognised in the Accounts Commission’s recent Best Value report. That report identified significant challenges for the council but crucially it also clearly stated that in the last two years, under the SNP’s leadership, clear progress was being made to address the strategic issues facing Moray Council.

He accused the Tories of trying to "manufacture a majority" in an executive when they only have a third of the councillors.

"That is totally undemocratic and will leave all of the other councillors with little influence on key decisions.

“The Conservatives have not shown any pragmatism or a willingness to significantly compromise with others, which is clearly evident in their efforts to manufacture a majority in a cabinet. I would urge councillors to reject this profoundly undemocratic proposal.”

However, Cllr Eagle hit back, saying: "Once again Cllr Leadbitter is out of touch with reality, not surprising for a group who listen far more intently to their bosses in Edinburgh than they do fight for the people of Moray.

"They claim our proposal is undemocratic, without even knowing what it is! This from a group who currently are in administration with only 30 per cent of the councillors. How undemocratic is that?"

"We made a proposal that matched the concerns raised in the recent highly critical report of Moray Council. Since then we have worked with progressive councillors to improve on that proposal and will now be putting forward an administration group of 13 councillors, 50 per cent of the council, with a cabinet model which represents 50 per cent of the council on the executive cabinet. That makes our proposal the most democratic cabinet structure in Scotland.

"Perhaps someone should point out to the failing Cllr Leadbitter that his own SNP party run this structure far less democratically in other parts of Scotland."

Referring to the recent resignation of Cllr Amy Taylor from the SNP administraton, Cllr Eagle said: "Since losing a member of their group the SNP have made no effort to reach out to opposition councillors. It shows an absolute lack of respect for the people of Moray and this comes just a few days after the Convenor of Council SNP Cllr Shona Morrison was reprimanded by the standards commission for breaking the code of conduct.

"The real reason Moray is progressing is because for the first time the opposition is willing to work alongside the administration in taking Moray forward.

"Previous SNP opposition groups have shown hostility to any attempt to modernise the council, even backing paying managers hundreds of thousands in wages, despite front line staff being made redundant.

"The current SNP group is hellbent on ignoring scrutiny and doing the bidding of its party in Edinburgh. We want to change that and have matched the concerns of the best value audit."

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