Failure to unlock the freeze will see £8million spend from reserves

Stewart Cree - total of £8m from reserves.
Stewart Cree – total of £8m from reserves

SERVICES IN MORAY will be protected as far as possible with Moray Council pledging to use an additional £3million from reserves to help make up their funding shortfall.

Yesterday the ruling Independent/Tory administrations had to admit defeat in their plans to cover £5million of their £10.8million budget shortfall by raising Council Tax by 18%.

That proposal had prompted weeks of nation-wide debate before the Scottish Government put an end to any hope of Scottish local authorities ending the nine-year voluntary freeze on council taxation – by imposing crippling financial penalties on those who did.

Last night the leader of Moray Council, Councillor Stewart Cree, revealed that the local authority would now draw deeper into their reserves to cover the bulk of their £10.8million shortfall by using a total of £8million from reserves, which at the last annual financial report stood at £21million.

That would leave savings of £2.8million needing to be found – although Councillor Cree had previously said the local authority had already identified £1.9million of savings so leaving just £900,000 to be identified.

These would not, according to the Council Leader, involve cuts in the most essential services. He said: “There will still be swimming pools, there will still be community centres, snow clearing, gritting – all the things that the council does, they will still bet there.

“But we will have one year to review that, because the money we spend – an additional £3million from our reserves – will not be there at the end of that time. We can’t keep spending the reserves simply to maintain our services, and so choices will have to be made.”

Meanwhile the SNP Opposition Group leader at Moray Council, Councillor Gary Coull, said that the initial threat of a tax hike was a “knee-jerk reaction” that caused weeks of worry for people in Moray.

He said: “The 18% tax hike proposal has been proven to be an off-the-cuff, knee jerk reaction to the budget settlement.

“The needless announcement has caused great concern and worry for many people in Moray. They have been worrying how they were going to pay for such a massive increase in their household bills and it’s extremely disappointing that the Independent/Tory administration in Moray have given people this unnecessary concern.

“The administration should have sat down and thought about a way forward rather than jumping in with both feet and coming up with such an ill-thought out proposal.

“SNP councillors have been working hard looking at the various options available and we have felt, from the beginning, that a council tax freeze could and should be maintained without affecting front line services.”

The special meeting of the Moray Council to make final decisions on the 2015/16 Budget has been delayed a week to February 17.

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