Budget 2015: ‘Light Touch’ now but pain just around the corner

Moray Council – ‘Light Touch’ Budget

The Moray Council administration have described their ‘light touch’ budget as one that would not impact heavily on frontline services.

That was the message from Council Leader Stewart Cree in presenting the local authority’s plans for the 2015/16 financial year at a special meeting of the Council on Thursday.

However, Councillor Cree is warning of difficult times ahead, insisting that action to address forthcoming challenges had already started and would continue in the months ahead.

“While I welcome the fact that we are able to balance the 2015-16 budget without having to implement significant savings, we must make best use of this period of respite to put us in a position to address the forthcoming challenges,” the council leader said.

Changes to the formula used by the Scottish Government in funding local councils mean that Moray will receive £4.3million than originally anticipated thanks to the increasing population of the region.

Councillor Cree said that provided some breathing space – but subsequent budgets would present Moray with some “real challenges”. He said: “As things stand, we anticipate that we will need to reduce our annual operating costs by £14.9million by the end of those two years.

“What is also clear is that, if we wish to protect core services as much as possible, we will have to invest significant sums in technology and other council infrastructure to help bring about the levels of savings required.”

Budget statement at a glance:

• Under current forecasts, savings of £9.4m will be required in 2016/17 and £7m in 2017/18;
• Savings already identified amount to £1.5m between 2016 and 2018, leaving £14.9m still to be found;
• The budget for this year includes £200k gained from increasing charges by the rate of inflation;
• Consultations three years ago gave a “clear indication” that people would be prepared to pay higher charges rather than see services reduced and this will be taken into account during the budget reviews;
• Council rents will rise by 4.5% from April, equivalent to an average of £2.24p a week;
• Average weekly rent in Moray will be £51.92, still one of the lowest in Scotland.

Reaction

Speaking on the changes to council rents, Councillor Eric McGillivray, chair of the communities committee, said: “The housing budget will enable the council to continue investment in its housing stock and to finance an ongoing new-build programme of 50 houses per year beyond 2015.”

Moray Labour group leader Councillor John Divers welcomed the budget approach adopted by the Administration group, saying: “We welcome the light-touch approach this year, made possible thanks to an increase in Moray’s population and the resulting increase in our share of government funding.

“There’s no doubt though that as funding from the Scottish Government shrinks even further, we still have to weather tough times ahead.”

During the budget debate the Labour councillor for Fochabers/Lhanbryde, Sean Morton, proposed an amendment to the budget that will see a report submitted at the next meeting of the Full Council that will review a policy which has seen people who have learning disabilities or suffer mental ill health losing out.

This came about when Moray Council moved from a charging policy to a contributions policy, which led to some in receipt of community care being charged as a result of the new policy.

Councillor Morton said: “I am pleased that our amendment was accepted. It cannot be right to balance the books on the back of the learning disabled and people with mental ill health. I’m glad that all councillors recognized this.”

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