More pain as ‘substantial’ council service reductions expected

Savings of £16m required over next three years
Savings of £16m required over next three years

MORAY MUST MAKE increased efforts towards further budget savings with more pain for communities expected from a “substantial reduction in service”.

That is the outcome from the latest report by the Accounts Commission who undertook an audit of the development and progress made at the local authority since 2013.

While the Commission said it was pleased with improvement that have either taken place or are under way in Moray, it has recommended that the pace of cuts to Council spending needs to be quicker.

“Moray is moving in the right direction but needs to increase significantly the pace of change,” Douglas Sinclair, chair of the Accounts Commission, said, adding: “Like all councils, Moray faces a big financial challenge.

“Councillors have the responsibility to make savings in the best interests of the people they represent whilst also ensuring they balance their budget.”

The report adds that the Council needs to improve in areas such as engaging with customers and its workforce.

Council leader Stewart Cree welcomed the report findings and acknowledged that work needed to be done to address the challenges Moray Council faces in the future.  He said: “I
note and accept that, like every other local authority in Scotland, difficult decisions will have to be made to balance future budgets and I can see no realistic way of achieving this without a substantial reduction in service.

“All Councillors, of whatever political hue, will have to take a pragmatic view and recognise this reality in the budget setting process.

“We will also need the help of the other public services who work with us on the Community Planning Partnership and this report highlights the need for common ownership of the challenges facing our communities in the difficult economic times ahead.”

However, Moray’s MSP Richard Lochhead last night warned that there would be concern in Moray’s communities who have already tasted several years of cutbacks in services – and strongly fought back against many of the choices made by the local authority.

“It is good to hear that Moray’s financial management is improving,” Mr Lochhead said, adding: “But the prospect of more cuts will fill our communities with trepidation.

“It is important that future budget decisions are handled far more sensitively than has often been the case in the past.”

In its findings, the Commission said it welcomed progress made in aligning strategic plans and priorities and the commitment of the new management team.  However, it adds that councillors must now provide demonstrable leadership in agreeing and implementing a strategy to deliver £16million in savings the council has to make by March 2018.