COUNCILS THROUGHOUT SCOTLAND are looking closely at the reaction to Moray Council’s decision to declare a unilateral end to the Scottish Government freeze on Council Tax.
The ruling administration group say they have been forced into a stark choice – implement savage cuts totalling £11.9million on already hard-pressed services, or defy the SNP Government’s freeze.
However, what has taken many by surprise is the size of the proposed increase – at 18% it is seen as a direct attack on families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Depending on which band their homes are, families will be asked to pay anywhere between £136 and £408 annual – that is £13.60 to £40.80 on monthly payments (Council Tax is spread over ten months).
Council leaders say that this level of increase will raise an additional £5million over the next year. To that they will add a further £5million from reserves, so that with the £1.9million in savings already identified there would be no need for any further cuts in their 2016/17 budget.
The figures include an allowance for funds that will be withheld by the Scottish Government as punishment for Moray’s defiance.
Council Leader Stewart Cree said: “The administration group have examined all realistic options very closely, but this level of financial reduction has placed an entirely new dimension on our deliberations. While we will continue to look at further efficiencies, we have to recognise that there is no way we can achieve this level of savings by efficiencies alone.
“Equally, we do not believe that the people of Moray should have to see the services and facilities that they cherish so much continue to deteriorate – and that is why we have decided to consider increasing council tax to a level that would protect services both now and in the future.
“In so doing, we are aware that we will have penalties imposed on us by the Scottish Government and we will forfeit the £1.1million that we are currently allocated to offset the council tax freeze.
“However, in light of the scale of the deficit we are facing, this £1.1million pales into insignificance when the only alternative would be further cuts to services – or even the loss of some services altogether.”
Councillor Cree said that Finance Secretary John Swinney has been informed of their concerns are they are now awaiting a formal response.
He added: “I believe the people of Moray will understand our dilemma and that they will be prepared to pay a reasonable increase in council tax in order to see their services and facilities maintained.”
Revealing that there will be no public consultation over their decision, the Council Leader apologised, saying that the “extreme and pressing nature” of the Scottish Government funding cut made it impossible to achieve that ahead of February’s Full Council meeting to agree the budget.
Councillor Cree added: “I know full well from previous budget consultations that the Moray public values very dearly the services and facilities which the council provides. That is why I am confident that they will see the good sense in paying a little extra in council tax to ensure that these services and facilities are not eroded further.”