THERE WAS NO triumphant speech from the Leader of Moray Council following his success in forcing through a budget on Wednesday.
Instead, Stewart Cree insisted that it was a sad day for Moray and Scotland that any decisions that were taken in the local council chamber were carried out without the freedom of choice expected in local democracy.
“The steps taken to nullify our original budget plans represent an affront to democracy,” Councillor Cree said after the Independent and Tory administration managed to win the day against an SNP alternative budget plan by 13 votes to 11.
Councillor Cree added: “This was not the budget we wanted to present, but we have been faced with a draconian imposition. We have managed to protect the services we provide, but the budget relies heavily on Mr Swinney’s promise to reform council tax.
“We will face tougher times if the system is not reviewed – but cutting services will absolutely be our last resort.”
While succeeding in defeating the SNP proposals the Administration was still forced to make a couple of U-turns in their plans, most notably reversal of the intention to withdraw £16,000 in funding from Citizen’s Advice Bureau grant allocation and a failure to gain enough support to scrap the £50,000 parking review for Elgin.
The ruling group were also convinced by Labour councillor John Divers to reduce their planned 10% increase in school meals to half that sum.
During the heated debate on Wednesday, the Administration also managed to extract a legal opinion that the SNP’s plan to include the Western Link Road in their budget was not appropriate, as no final decision on the future of that project had been taken and its inclusion was subject to a suspension of the Council’s standing orders.
That was despite SNP group leader Gary Coull insisting he had been assured it was acceptable to include the Elgin road plans in their budget statement.
Barely an original thought
Last night Councillor Coull insisted that the budget passed contained “barely an original thought”.
He said: “What we saw today from the Tory/Independent Administration was a poor excuse for a budget that was based almost entirely on the cuts offered up by council officers and barely an original thought from the Administration despite having had months to work on it.
“In contrast the SNP put forward an alternative budget that looked beyond the same old, same old cuts that are unsustainable.
“We are delighted that Moray’s taxpayers have been saved from a ludicrous 18% rise in Council Tax, which we have demonstrated clear alternatives to. I sincerely hope that the Council will take notice of those alternatives that we believe are proportionate and fair. If they don’t start using some of the blue sky thinking, which bizarrely they have criticised the SNP for, then they will lead Moray Council to bankruptcy.
“What Moray Council’s Administration lacks is the political will to challenge the status quo of service provision and unless the Council’s leader actually starts to lead then I fear they will take the Council over the edge of a financial cliff.”