THE LEADER OF Moray Council has sought an explanation from Finance Secretary John Swinney over his comments that plans to raise Council Tax by 18% was “unnecessary and premature”.
In a growing row between the Scottish Government and Moray Council, who this week led the way to breaking the long standing freeze on Council Tax in Scotland, Councillor Stewart Cree insisted that Moray was following target dates set by the Scottish Government.
Now the Moray leader is wondering if the comments from Mr Swinney is an indication that further adjustments to the funding allocations received by Councils are in the pipeline.
Councillor Cree said: “Like all councils we were required to respond to the settlement offer from Mr Swinney by January 22.
“If the settlement was not acceptable – and we knew quite soon after it was received that this was the case – we were advised to inform the Finance Secretary.
“We looked long and hard at how we could meet the savings target demanded by the settlement. Moray Council is ahead of many authorities in making rafts of efficiency savings – we have reduced staff numbers, premises, and reduced services where we could, cutting our annual costs by more than £24million.
“There is nothing left that would generate the level of savings required, hence our decision to propose an increase in the council tax. We informed Mr Swinney of that prior to our announcement and a week ahead of the January 22 deadline.”
However, Councillor Cree added that he was aware discussions were ongoing between COSLA and the Finance Secretary over grant allocations. He added: “So if by ‘premature’ he is indicating there could be a change to the figures I’ll be very interested.
“Most commentators in Thursday’s press agree with us in that the current method of funding local government is not working, and the council tax freeze is unsustainable.
“When the freeze was introduced in 2007 Mr Swinney promised an alternative system of financing councils, but nine years later we are still waiting. Moray simply couldn’t wait any longer.”
Ross says no to increase as Labour call for talks
Rebel Tory councillor Douglas Ross made it clear yesterday that he will not back any Council move to break the Scottish Government freeze on Council Tax.
Speaking on BBC Radio, Councillor Ross said: “I am 100% against increasing council tax while the freeze was ongoing. People have budgeted for a freeze and the first 4% goes back to the Scottish Government as a punishment – so this is not an option for me.”
Without the support of their former group member, the ruling Independent/Tory administration may now find it difficult to press through their plans, as their total of 12 councillors falls one short of the required number.
Hopes of recruiting support from one or both Labour members in the council chamber also received a setback when a statement from the Moray Labour group signalled a U-turn over their previous line that Council Tax should be increased to halt any cuts in services in Moray.
A statement from Councillor John Divers, who is the leader of the Moray Labour Group, said: “The SNP government has put councils in an impossible position and there is no easy option. My colleague Councillor Sean Morton and I will work over the coming weeks to find an alternative to an 18% council tax hike.
“That will most likely mean we will have to identify cuts to services. It will not be easy but we will try to strike a balance between harsh SNP cuts and council tax rises. We encourage all other councillors to work with us to find a fair way forward.”