ANOTHER WAR OF words has broken out over the future make-up of the Moray Council following reports that Council Leader Stewart Cree’s future position may be in doubt.
Speculation has been rife since the vote on March 30 that saw the long-running efforts to create a Western Link Route into Elgin voted out of the local authority Capital Plan.
However, last night the Independent/Tory administration group insisted that there will be no resignations, and that they will now concentrate all efforts on ensuring that they hand over a ‘balanced budget’ to any new administration formed after local government elections in May 2017. In response the SNP said they would be willing to form a minority Administration – while Labour’s Sean Morton said he would support an SNP administration if they showed a willingness to take on “tough challenges”.
In a statement on Wednesday, Stewart Cree said: “Further to the Council decision on the Elgin Western Link Route on 30 March 2016, I know there will be speculation regarding the future of the administration group within the Council and the role that they intend to take.
“Despite the disappointment of the Link Road decision, the administration group has no desire to stand down from its responsibilities. We were elected to serve and we are committed to seeing that duty through.
“I have every confidence that the members of that group, and in particular those individuals who chair the standing committees of the Council or other council bodies, will continue to use their talents and experience to improve Moray despite continued attempts on the part of the opposition to undermine our efforts.
“Our duty is to ensure that the council is handed on to the next administration following next year’s elections in sound financial shape, and a great deal of work needs to be carried out before then.
“Working as a minority administration this will not be easy, but we will do whatever is best in the interests of all those in the communities we serve, both locally and within the wider community of Moray.”
Councillor Cree highlighted the £14million reduction in spending that needs to be achieved by Moray Council by the 2017/18 financial year.
He added: “We know that, politically, certain decisions may be unacceptable for some councillors.
“However, we also understand that we cannot allow Moray to continue to accumulate a financial deficit which is unsustainable and, if not addressed, runs the risk of the authority defaulting on its public duties.
“We will, therefore, be working with council officers and the wider public to identify where savings can be made, and to set a balanced budget in advance of the 2017 elections.”
Last night the leader of the main opposition group, the SNP’s Councillor Gary Coull, reminded the Council Leader that the SNP was also a minority in the Council chamber.
He said: “The SNP Opposition Group in Moray Council are very clear that we will take on the Administration of the Council if that is what is required of us – but we are also very clear that we are, ourselves, a minority and without a majority position it is far from certain that others in the Council would support us in that course of action.
“Despite being soundly defeated in last week’s Capital Budget vote the Council Leader continues to cast blame around and refuses to take the degree of responsibility and leadership that is rightly expected of him.
“In the same sentence as praising his colleagues who are committee chairs the Council Leader blames the opposition for trying to ‘undermine’ the Administration, yet they lost this important vote because two of their own Administration group voted against the plans, including their Chair of Planning and Regulatory Services.
“This is typical deflection by the Council Leader from his own leadership failings. His peg appears to be more shoogly than ever at this time.
“SNP Councillors participated positively and effectively in cross party working with the Administration and other opposition councillors – until the Administration themselves walked away from that arrangement.
“If Councillor Cree wants to work with us we are open to discussion on how that could be re-invigorated.
“If he is not prepared to work with the Council’s opposition groups in an effective manner then I suspect he will continue to suffer fractures and disgruntlement within his own Administration and unsurprisingly that is likely to lead to more difficult votes for him.”
Labour Support for SNP?
Labour support could lend a hand in the crisis as Councillor Sean Morton told insideMoray he would be willing to support the SNP in the Council Chamber.
The Fochabers/Lhanbryde councillor attempted to bring rival groups together last weekend to discuss a joint way forward – but no SNP Group councillor attended.
However, he insists that he would be prepared to lay aside past differences, saying: “If the SNP put forward a strong case for the year ahead and show a willingness to take on the tough challenges, I would vote for them to take over the council. That willingness has not been demonstrated in the past but I’m more concerned with the future – as are my constituents.”