MORAY COUNCIL SHOULD defy the Scottish Government freeze on council tax by imposing an increase to help alleviate the effects of a £5million ‘black hole’ in their finances.
That is the view being put forward this week by Fochabers/Lhanbryde councillor Sean Morton in the wake of a budget that saw Deputy First Minister John Swinney announce the most savage cuts yet to be placed on local authority budgets in Scotland.
The Moray Labour call came as the Council Convener, Allan Wright, revealed the extent of the cuts faced in the wake of Wednesday’s budget statement. Councillor Wright said that Moray had to find £5million in savings on top of the £6.2million they already knew they had to account for.
Councillor Morton’s response was that the SNP Government budget would impact on just about every corner of local services – and insisted it was time that people acted against decisions that would harm communities throughout Scotland.
He said: “We can’t go on like this. The SNP have the power to end Tory austerity yet they continue hacking away at council budgets. Every single cut to our council budget is a cut our communities in Moray will feel – and this latest budget will slash £500m from council budgets – that amounts to 15000 jobs across Scotland.
“I can’t watch Moray suffer any more cuts – we have lost too much already. It is time for councils to do what the SNP refuse to do.
“We must ask ourselves what we value more, do we care more about keeping council tax at 2007 levels or do we care more about looking after our elderly, running our schools and repairing our roads?
“The big cuts are around the corner – it’s time to stand up and refuse to enact them. There is a better way – the council needs to defy the SNP and stop the cuts.”
However, the SNP opposition group at Moray Council last night slammed Councillor Morton’s call, saying that it “beggars belief” a Labour councillor and parliamentary candidate would wish to inflict further costs on hard working families.
Councillor Gary Coull said: “The council tax freeze has saved families £1500 and has given them the comfort of not having that cost increased.
“The freeze has been proven to be fully funded. If Labour had their way and increased both Income Tax and Council Tax then households who are on just the Living Wage would be hit by over £150 in extra tax every year.
“The council tax is a regressive tax, which the SNP are currently reforming. Given it disproportionately hits people on lower incomes I cannot believe that the Labour party are seriously suggesting a significant increase.”
SNP lay the blame on Westminster
Last night the SNP opposition group leader at Moray Council also insisted that there were areas to be welcomed in the Scottish Government’s budget announcement – despite the local authority revealing that they would need to find savings of over £11million as a result of it.
Councillor Coull said: “This is undoubtedly a difficult budget with the Scottish Government having seen its allocation from Westminster cut by over 5%. This is due to the continued Tory austerity agenda in Westminster, a choice which is needless and totally rejected by the Scottish people just a few months ago.
“This budget tries to protect people from that austerity agenda. It has frozen the Council Tax for the ninth year in a row saving families on average £1500 – a freeze which, incidentally, has been proven to be fully funded.
“The Council Tax is a totally regressive tax and I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government will set out their plans to reform it soon. There are areas to be to welcomed in this budget like the extra £250m for social care, an additional £90m for affordable housing and more money to raise the attainment of our young people.
“While this is a challenging time for local government we are in a stronger position than our counterparts in England, who have seen a 24% reduction in their funding. Now we need to strengthen our joint working with other agencies like the NHS to improve outcomes for the people of Moray.”