Harsh realities that dictated move to 18% Council Tax increase

insideMoray has been at the heart of the debate over if Moray Council should break the Scottish Government’s freeze on Council Tax, allowing the people of Moray the only free platform on which to read the views of our politicians and respond in an open, unbiased and fair manner.  Today we hear from Councillor John Cowe, chairman of Moray Council’s economic development and infrastructure services committee and a driving force behind moves to break the Scottish Government freeze.

John Cowe -
Councillor John Cowe – majority of people understand the position Moray Council are in

IT IS NOW ALMOST three years since I was given the honour and privilege of serving Heldon and Laich as an Independent Councillor on Moray Council.

During that time, many difficult and unpopular decisions have had to be made in an effort to balance the books whilst protecting those services vital to many in Moray.

Those decisions pale into insignificance to that which is before us now.

Like most of you, I have seen the photographs and the placards in the press and have read, with increasing frustration, the comments from individuals and party members in Moray which paint a picture of falsehood and blinkered vision – and before I go any further I would like to make my personal position clear.

I am an Independent Councillor with independent views, and have always firmly believed that local government is no place for party politics. Having been there for some three years, that belief is stronger than ever.

There are 26 Councillors on Moray Council and each and every one of them should be working for ALL the people of Moray and no decision in Moray Council should be made on political grounds.

So let me now, if I may, give you the facts in as open and transparent a manner as possible.

76% of Moray Council funding comes from Scottish Government grant.
18% comes from Council Tax.
6% comes from charges for services.
94% of Council income has been frozen for over 5 years.

Over that term, Moray Council has had to cope with additional costs of £25.8million from Scottish Government legislation, growth in demand, regulatory changes and the investment in maintenance etc.

During the same time the council has had to reduce its annual costs, now by £24.1million, through efficiency savings, increased charges and, unfortunately, cuts to services provided to local communities.

Council Tax has been frozen now for nine years. The increase being asked is the equivalent of 2% per annum over that period – 18%.

SNP increased Moray’s Council Tax by 37.7%

The public need to be aware that in 1996/97 alone, the SNP administration increased Council Tax by 19.6%. (That seems to have been conveniently forgotten). In 1997/98 by another 7.3%, and in 1998/99 by 7.2% – and in the last year of their administration by 3.6%. A total of 37.7% over the four-year period of the last SNP administration

During the term of the Council Tax freeze we are being told that it has been fully funded by The Scottish Government. That is a fallacy, as in fact on a like for like basis, Moray Council has been underfunded on this alone by the sum of £1.92 million

In mid-December last year, following a long period of intense scrutiny of all spending, which trimmed another £1.8million and, incidentally, which the SNP refused to co-operate with or bring other alternatives to the table – the administration believed that it had a settled position of a £6.8 million shortfall in its budget.

On Christmas Eve, the Scottish Government announced its annual grants to Local Authorities and cut a further £5million from The Moray Council, meaning an accumulative shortfall of £11.8 million.

Reserves will be used

The Moray Council, through prudent housekeeping has reserves of £20million.

An 18% increase in Council Tax would generate £5.4million – but the Scottish Government will fine the Council £1.1million for breaking the Council Tax freeze. £4.3million from Council Tax plus £1.8million from further savings plus £5million from reserves will just about take the Council to break-even point.

That leaves £15million in reserves for the future, but next year it is estimated that we will need a further £12.8million – and as the Council must by law keep a reserve of at least £5 million, the net result is The Moray Council by mid-2017 may be unable to service its duties to the public of Moray.

I believe the majority of people in Moray understand and accept the position The Moray Council are in and are prepared to pay a little more to save their local services.

Remember, those on low income, the unemployed and pensioners living only on their pension pay NO Council Tax – and those claiming a rebate are assessed on individual personal circumstances, unless off course you are our Westminster MP, who successfully reclaimed £1073 in Council Tax.

For the sake of approximately £2 a week each, I will be fighting tooth and nail to protect those services that we all enjoy in Heldon and Laich and all of Moray.