The Leader of Moray Council has claimed that control of the local authority could be seized if the administration failed to make drastic cuts.
Councillor Allan Wright has said that while the Council could dip into their ‘modest’ reserves, doing so would likely lead to Moray running out of funding within three years.
Speaking in response to fierce political and public opposition to the Independent and Tory administration plans to save up to £30million over the next three years, the council leader says that people should be “under no illusions” over what could happen if the books are not balanced.
Councillor Wright said: “We we cannot balance the budget then the Scottish Government will either put in their own people or appoint people from other councils to run the business better.
“I am never happy about closing any facilities – the business of making cuts is not pleasant but it is driven by the situation we face.”
The comments come as the threat of legal action against the Council increased following their decision to close seven libraries against the advice of their own legal officers, who feared that ignoring an Equalities Impact Assessment left the authority open to such a challenge.
Representatives from campaign groups in several of the communities affected by the closures will meet on Thursday to discuss taking their fight to the courts, with any action likely to cost Moray Council more than their estimated savings from closing the libraries.
Campaigners insist that Moray Council has a statutory and moral duty to retain most of not all public libraries – but Councillor Wright insists that the impact assessment was incorrect in its assertion that three of the libraries – in Cullen, Dufftown and Burghead – were required to meet local needs.
He said: “As an authority we have more libraries per head of the population than anywhere else in Scotland. We have enough left [after the cuts] open in key population points and at Tomintoul to provide an acceptable service for Moray – and I stand by that.”
Councillor Wright also responded to claims that savings could be made by scrapping plans to develop a new approach road into Elgin, a proposal that has also been fiercely contested by communities who say that it is not needed with the Scottish Government going ahead with their plans to upgrade the A96 – including a bypass around Elgin.
Caroline Webster, who has been a leading campaigner against the new road proposals, said: “The Scottish Government is set to announce in the next couple of months whether the future route of the A96 is going to go north or south of Elgin.
“That is going to completely change the road network around the town and also the pattern of development in it, so to be pressing on with the link road is incomprehensible.”
Speaking for Save our Libraries (Moray), Dr Joan Megson added: “It is very arrogant to just write off so many people by closing our local libraries.
“Councillor Wright has argued that it is mainly elderly people that use them but that is not true either – everyone is aware that children need to be exposed to books at an early age.
“We are also denying a route onto the internet that is vital for unemployed people who will find it even more difficult to search for jobs or fill out welfare applications.
“Moray Council certainly has a difficult job balancing the budget, we all accept and understand that – what we don’t accept is the way he and his administration colleagues are seeking cuts in the wrong areas and for the wrong reasons.”