Opinion: Moray Council fought the good fight – and were shafted

Following one of the most controversial clashes between local and central government in Scotland for many years, Councillor John Cowe returns to the pages of insideMoray to lay out the financial facts behind the Moray Council Administration’s 2015/2016 budget, and dismisses claims by the SNP Group Leader of a “knee jerk reaction”.

Councillor John Cowe
Councillor John Cowe

I have always had a great deal of respect for SNP Group Leader Councillor Gary Coull as a person – and I am certainly not going to get into a tit-for-tat situation as regards his politics and beliefs.

But as before I will put the facts to the public of Moray for them to decide who is talking politics and who is talking facts.

Gary uses the retail price index to argue his point that Local Authorities have received more in return for freezing Council Tax than we would have received otherwise.

Had Council Tax risen by an average 3.5% year on year, the Moray Council would have generated a further £1.92 million to help offset the massive extra burdens being placed upon it.

Comparing a 2% per annum rise in Council tax over the nine years of the freeze against the 19.6% rise by the SNP in 1995/6 alone and totalling 37.7% over 4 years of their administration, I would not call that an off the cuff knee jerk reaction, but an avalanche which swamped the tax payers of Moray at that time.

That was certainly too much to bear! So throw away your placards and face facts:

  • There are 44,268 households in Moray, 5,837 of which pay NO Council Tax.
  • In Moray 3662 households get a full reduction award under the terms of the Local Tax reduction scheme while 2175 households have full exemption to Council Tax.
  • Those who cannot legitimately pay, don’t pay!

Progress is about sharing and working together, which is why the Moray Council is working with Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils to develop an Energy from Waste plant to service all the North East of Scotland when landfill ceases in 2020.

Likewise our roads department, Hitrans, Sustrans, Business Gateway etc., all work with neighbouring Authorities.

But I will leave the folks of Moray to make their own minds up on the SNP’s running of the Police, the NHS, the Fire Service with its Gaelic signs and of course our Colleges with 150,000 less places.

I am told that I am “misinformed and tell mistruths” – funny that, since a letter was sent from the Leader of the SNP to the Leader of the Council last June turning down the opportunity to work with the Administration on the finances of the Council.

An invitation asking for SNP and Labour support in looking at the Economic Development budget was likewise turned down by the SNP, but I am grateful for the support of the Labour group during that budget exercise.

Comment is made of lack of communication and withholding of information by the Administration, yet last week Mr Swinney left a meeting of COSLA attended by 28 local authorities and announced to the press 20 minutes later that they had three days to accept his conditions! No mention was made of that during the meeting!

Seven local authorities agreed – all SNP, the remaining 21 did not . So where are we now and what has happened to Democracy in Scotland in the last week? Quote: “ANY Council that does not sign up to the Scottish Government package will NOT receive its share of support funding!”

That’s in excess of £5 million to Moray Council – we fought the fight and we were shafted.

Highland Council have asked for 360 voluntary redundancies with £11 million cut from its Education budget alone. If Edinburgh Council disobeys Holyrood it will cost them £33 million and Glasgow City Council £45 million. Such is the power of Holyrood.

So we in Moray must guard every penny to help and support your services for your wellbeing, difficult times lie ahead.

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