Stark warning for Councillors as they prepare to tackle budget cuts

Mark Palmer - budget pain
Mark Palmer – budget pain

MORAY COUNCILLORS WERE given a stark warning on Wednesday that they faced extremely difficult budgetary decisions “for the foreseeable future”.

Corporate Director Mark Palmer delivered the warning during a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday, saying that current indications are the council would be required to find savings of £6.4million next year – and the same in 2017/18.

Mr Palmer commended councillors who had responded “extremely well” in achieving savings of £24million over the last five years, taking tough decisions along the way. He added, however, that current arrangements for providing council services were “not sustainable” and that councillors and officials would need to work together to identify all possible options for reducing costs.

That may include calling on a “substantial amount” being drawn from the local authority reserves, which currently stands at £21million, if they are to balance the budget next year.

As well as finding savings the local authority will possibly need to increase charges, the Corporate Director saying: “For 2015/16 the council agreed a standard 5% increase in charges, with exceptions. Further increases and the introduction of new charges will also need to be considered for all services which are not covered by external regulations.”

A debate on the issue included a call from Councillor Douglas Ross that the local authority consider a return to cross-party talks that would allow consensus on cuts, as well as comprehensive public consultations using every available means.

Leader of the Council Stewart Cree responded that he would write to leaders of all groups to seek their views and further discussions on the budget issues facing the local authority.

Mr Palmer, meanwhile, agreed the importance of establishing plans to engage with communities across Moray.

He said that previous public budget consultations had tended to be viewed in isolation, but recent work had highlighted the need for more emphasis to be placed on community engagement on an ongoing basis.