Bowed Moray Council leader forced to face inevitable cuts

Stewart Cree - forced to accept deal or face crippling sanctions
Stewart Cree – forced to accept deal or face crippling sanctions

MORAY COUNCIL LEADER Stewart Cree returned from talks between COSLA and the Scottish Government last night admitting that plans to raise Council Tax in Moray were in tatters.

Although the Scottish local authority governing body firmly rejected the latest offer from deputy first minister John Swinney, Councillor Stewart Cree has reluctantly accepted that facing penalties of £5million would mean only an increase of 36% would save savage cuts to essential services.

That, the independent leader in Moray admitted, was impossible, adding that he still did not see why the people of Moray should have to pay any penalty for saving services. Now he will return for local talks with other group leaders in an attempt to thrash out which services would require to be cut to save the £11million required over the next financial year.

Councillor Cree said: “I do not see why the people of Moray should pay any penalty for choosing to keep their services – but the rules seem to have changed, and that penalty will now reach more that £5million.

“Effectively any money raised through Council Tax would go to paying that fine – and that has made the prospect of applying the council tax increase distinctly less palatable.”

Leader of the SNP opposition group, Councillor Gary Coull, insisted that the comments from the council leader was a “knee-jerk reaction” to the reality he faced, however, with Scottish council leaders voting 21-7 in favour of rejecting the Scottish Government offer the despair felt throughout the country to the continuation of the freeze on council tax is clear.

COSLA leader David O’Neil said: “The £350million cut is bad enough but the way in which it will now be imposed on individual councils is even worse.  The Scottish Government is basically forcing individual councils into having to accept the deal – or else face horrendous sanctions.”

Mr Swinney, however, insisted that his hope was that “cooler heads will come to realise this is a deal that councils can and should accept”.

The Finance Secretary originally set the deadline for acceptance as Tuesday – but has given local authority leaders until the following week, Tuesday, February 8, to respond formally to his offer. The deadline will arrive 24 hours before Moray Council are due to deliberate their budget at a Full Council meeting.