Council leader insists cuts to local services were necessary

Allan Wright

Council leader Allan Wright has said that Moray has survived the worst and cuts to local services have now drawn to a close.

A series of contentious financial cut-backs and service withdrawals caused furious protests as Moray Council began the process two years ago of reducing their budget by £30million.

One of the most furiously fought was the decision to close seven public libraries in the region, a decision that the local authority’s own legal advisors warned could be challenged in court.

After initially going against that advice a campaign group set up to defend the libraries did take the local authority to the brink of a court challenge, forcing a special meeting last year to review their decision and retain three of the seven libraries they had planned to close.

Councillor Wright admitted that the entire process had been a “very difficult” one: “A year ago we were beginning the very difficult process of making savings in several areas, like the libraries.

“I said then that we had to balance the books or we would be in a position where the Scottish Government would send a team in from another area to do it for us. This led to the people of Moray having to take the hard knocks.

“However, Moray is now in a much healthier position that I would have imagined a year ago.”

The council budget has been slashed by £24million with £14million having come from cuts to services and staff numbers. Reductions in the level of borrowing helped towards the remainder while an anticipated cut in the council budget turned out to be £5million less than was first expected.

Moray also came out on top after changes to the Scottish Government method of allocating local authority funding were finally accepted by COSLA, providing an additional £4million to the budget.

While some financial savings are still required Councillor Wright insists that this did not mean school closures would follow, insisting that the ongoing review of education services in Moray was not a cost-saving exercise.

He said: “The education review is about trying to boost performance – it is not about reducing spending by drawing up a hit list of schools to close.”

Last night a spokesman for the Save our Libraries Moray campaign that brought about a partial change of mind on library closures said that events since had shown there was never a need to close Findochty, Hopeman, Rothes and Portknockie.

He said: “When the decision was taken to close seven libraries the council insisted that they needed to save £30million.

“What has been shown since is that was never the case – Moray Council got their sums wrong having suddenly discovered that a Scottish Government cut to their budget was £5million less than they said.

“They painted the worst possible scenario two years ago and used that to force library and other closures that were ultimately not required.”

Leave a comment