The leader of the main opposition group at Moray Council has hit back at accusations of ‘treachery’ on the eve of today’s crunch special meeting of the Full Council.
Today’s meeting follows the defeat of administration plans to go ahead with a raft of rural school closures under the Sustainable Education Review (SER).
It aims to make changes at the top with a promotion for the Council Leader, Allan Wright, to Convener – despite his calling colleagues ‘cowards’ after the SER defeat and resigning his post.
Now in an open address Pearl Paul, who leads the SNP opposition group at the local authority, has hit out at the Council leadership in a statement she requested be published in full through the pages of insideMoray – a request agreed by the editor as her words go some way to explain the turmoil that has faced Moray Council in recent weeks.
Councillor Paul wrote: “The vote to protect Moray’s rural schools demonstrated our support for rural communities across the region but it has also exposed weakness and disarray amongst the Tory/Independent coalition.
“Some administration councillors, including the Tory leader, have sought to blame the SNP for their woes – one even describing my actions as SNP Opposition Group Leader as ‘treachery’. But let me be absolutely blunt here, the administration’s problems are entirely their own.
“As the SNP Group leader I am proud of the fact that the SNP has taken a principled decision not to close rural schools. In contrast it is abundantly clear that Moray Council’s Tories cannot agree as a group, nor can the Independents agree as a group and the result is a dysfunctional administration that cannot persuade the people in their own room what to do, never mind anyone else.
Convener supported the opposition line
“Prior to the vote we discussed our position with the Council Convener, Stewart Cree, who basically supported what we were saying, as is blatantly obvious from the fact that he proposed the motion.
“How then can administration councillors blame the SNP – we gained the support of several of their colleagues!
“If they spent less time casting around for others to blame and more on finding common purpose with each other they might achieve something but it looks far from the case at the moment.
“Throughout the SER communities have been told it was not about the money but when it came to the debate the Council Leader was all too quick to bring money into the equation. So was what was said before untrue?
“That is something that has already been mentioned by many people who have been following the debate on education in Moray.
“Not only did the Council Leader mention money in the debate but he went on to state afterwards that other services would have to be cut, then only the next day he lauded the fact that the Council had not had to take £2million from reserves as expected and that this was great news.
“So which is it to be? Frightening people with threats of cuts or commending the fact that the Council has already found money and STILL has a whopping £17.5million in reserve when Audit Scotland reckons we only need about £5million in reserve.
Education vote was not about priorities
“There is not a Councillor in Moray who would disagree that we need to push for more efficient services, for improving income streams and increasing partnership working to drive down administration costs but let me be clear – the education vote was not about budgets it was about priorities.
“June this year saw the publication of another report by Audit Scotland, this time on education spend. In that report Moray is shown to be one of the lowest spending authorities per pupil on education services and the lowest when it comes to rural authorities.
“So the question needing asked here is not whether we must save money from education but should the council instead prioritise and invest more in education instead. If other authorities in Scotland can spend significantly more per pupil in their education budget then what is the problem with the Council Administration in Moray? The answer again is simple, it is priorities.
“The SNP has supported various budget saving measures over recent years and we have argued particularly against cuts in education – notably on Principal Teachers and Classroom Assistants but also in other areas of education spend that we believed should have been spared.
“Some of the savings that could help protect critical budget lines in education are only now being worked on despite the fact that we raised these savings possibilities years ago and there has been a serious lack of political will to discuss shared services with neighbouring authorities.
“Certainly if there has been significant discussion it has not been reported back in any great detail nor does there appear to be a strategy to take this forward.
Reward for ‘no confidence’ leadership
“We now have the ridiculous situation where the Leader has resigned on an issue of confidence in his strategy and it looks like he is to be rewarded by being made Convener, while the Convener could swap places with him to become leader.
“This is despite the Convener and others who supported rural schools being described by the very same person as cowards.
“I think the public in Moray will be flabbergasted by this. Not only that but the Tories are in administration and in opposition at the same time in the Council – which is bizarre to say the least.
“Meanwhile the current Convener has sacked a councillor, it appears, for supporting his own motion.
“Confusion reigns from the Tories and independents on Moray Council.”