COUNCIL LEADERS SHOULD scrap their plans for Elgin’s Western Link Road rather than impose a Council Tax increase that is quite simply unacceptable.
That was how former administration member Councillor Douglas Ross led the charge in condemning the Administration group last night, insisting that their plans for an 18% increase was “just crazy”.
He told insideMoray: “The council tax freeze was definitely a gimmick by the SNP central government and they never properly funded local councils for the shortfall – that said, announcing a council tax increase of 18% in one year is almost as crazy.
“People in Moray and across Scotland believed their council tax was frozen and budgeted accordingly – so to be hit with such a large increase in one year is unacceptable. I have heard several people say that they would be willing to pay a little more in council tax to secure services, but 18% is a drastic figure which many people will rightly view as an unacceptable rise.”
The Tory councillor, who seeks to become an MSP in May, added that council leaders have had months to come up with budget saving measures. He called the use of reserves and taxing the public a “poor reflection” on the leadership qualities of the council administration.
He added: “Moray Council would be better served waiting to see what parties pledge in their manifestos for the Holyrood elections before making any decisions. This tax hike is unwise for many reasons, not least because the first four percent of the 18% suggested will go straight back to central government as a punishment for breaking the council tax freeze.
“Also because the deficit would not be dealt with this year as reserves are being purged, it would be likely that another large increase in council tax would be proposed the following year. Ultimately this proposed tax increase will only generate £4.6million and I will be working from now until budget day to consider savings that will allow us to set a budget without increasing council tax.
“The council could start by scrapping plans for the Western Link Road and the revenue costs associated with it.”
Councillor Ross also pointed out that the Administration are not assured the votes to get their proposals through on their own – so rather than “chasing headlines with drastic tax increase stories” they should be looking further to where savings can be made.
SNP Group confirm opposition
As expected the SNP opposition group in Moray slammed the ruling Administration’s tax-raising plan, saying that they would hit the pockets of people already facing high living costs.
SNP Group leader Councillor Gary Coull said: “Once again we are seeing this Independent/Tory Administration getting Moray in the national headlines for all the wrong reasons. This is a massive hike being proposed by the Independents and Tories and will really hit the pockets of Moray people who are already facing high living costs combined with frozen wages.”
Contrary to the view of Councillor Ross, the SNP group believe that the administration group may have the numbers to push their proposals through.
Councillor Coull added: “It is even more galling that a rise is supported by the Tories and Labour in Moray – something which has, no doubt, encouraged the administration to come forward with this ridiculous hike. The Tories want a low tax economy nationally but obviously don’t care about the level of local taxation.
“Group leaders in Moray met on Tuesday to have, in the words of the Council’s Convener, an ‘open and transparent discussion’ on the budget and absolutely no mention of this hike was made.
“With this Council Tax announcement less than 24 hours later the Administration clearly have no intention of working with us to tackle this budget issue, which is extremely disappointing.
“The Council Tax freeze has saved families over £1500 and has been welcomed by local people. A survey in Highland showed that 62% of people would reject an increase – and I have no doubt Moray would produce similar results.”
Councillor Coull also attacked the administration for proposing the tax increase while they “continue to peddle vanity projects such as the Western Link Road in Elgin.”
Labour – Scottish Government demands leave Moray with no optionsSean Morton – horrible situation – what do we do?
While not revealing how his Scottish Labour colleague John Divers would vote on the issue of the tax increase, Councillor Sean Morton told insideMoray that the region simply cannot make ends meet in any other way.
The Fochabers/Lhanbryde councillor said: “I believe in ending the council tax freeze – it is devastated council services, and that is the big issue people have raised with me over the last four years.
“They cannot take any more cuts to councils, which are cuts to communities. I genuinely want to hear people’s thoughts on this proposal, because this will be a shock to the system and I never imagined an increase of this amount – even though, in real terms, this doesn’t bring us close to what the council took in council tax.”
Councillor Morton pointed to the “horrible situation’ Moray now finds itself in after massive SNP Government cuts to local authority budgets, adding: “This year’s cut is dangerous for Moray – we just can’t make ends meet.
“Even if we close all our libraries, shut every community centre, shut down pools and sports facilities, close the parks, stop fixing roads and turn off all the street lights, we would still have to cut more to satisfy the Scottish Government’s demands.
“What do we do? Do we shut schools? Do we close nurseries? Do we let the rubbish pile up in the streets? Do we stop caring for our elderly? Or do we put up the council tax?”
Greens – people understand but there are more optionsJames MacKessack-Leitch – most people understand the need to pay more
Convener of the Moray Greens, James MacKessack-Leitch, acknowledged last night that the move by Moray Council was a bold attempt at avoiding wholesale cuts in services – but he also pointed to the Elgin Western Link Road as one of the “steps too far” being insisted on by the local authority.
He said: “Proposing an 18% rise in Council Tax is a bold move by the Council Administration, and I look forward to seeing the detail behind the proposal in the full budget.
“Most people understand the need to pay a bit more to protect cherished local assets and hard-working council employees, and it is certainly a better option than yet more devastating cuts and further increasing services charges or Council Tenants rents.
“However, there are still other reasonable options available to the Council Administration, and they will have a hard time justifying such a large rise when costly and unpopular projects like the proposed Elgin Western Link Road are still being pursued.
“I would also urge the Council to work with vulnerable and low income taxpayers to ensure that those who should be receiving exemptions or support do so.
“Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the Council Tax, and its current management, is not fit for purpose and, rather than being frozen, should be scrapped in favour of a fairer, more progressive alternative with absolute local control – along the lines proposed by the recent Commission on Local Tax Reform.”
MP ‘Incredulous’ and MSP says Council leaders ‘out of touch’
Moray’s MP Angus Robertson last night slammed the council leadership for their decision, saying: “I am utterly incredulous that a Tory Council Leader is backing an 18% tax rise when the cause of the pressure on Council budgets is the austerity economics of his own Tory Chancellor.
“Hard-pressed families in Moray are struggling with the day-to-day cost of living while Tory and Independent Councillors appear incapable of finding serious savings despite having had months and even years of opportunity to do so.
“By openly supporting a Council Tax rise in Moray Labour have effectively given the Tory-led Council Administration the green light to hammer the people of Moray to balance their books.”
Richard Lochhead meanwhile said the move was an “outrageous” plan: “Moray Council’s Tory and Independent Administration are showing just how out of touch they are with the people of Moray with this outrageous plan.
“In Moray and across the country we have families living in poverty or barely above the breadline and we have Independent and Conservative councillors planning an 18% tax rise.”