Council preparing most important ever consultation of budget cuts

Council facing difficult decisions this week
Council facing difficult decisions this week

THE FULL MEETING of Moray Council this week could prove to be one of the most important for several years, as the local authority seeks to tackle the growing issue of balancing its books.

Wednesday’s meeting will include a briefing note that will form part of the community engagement exercise being planned.

That, it is hoped, will allow a full and frank discussion on the issues to take place – although for many the biggest battle facing the Council is to convince the public that they are being genuinely listened to.

Moray Council officials say that the levels of service provision is simply “not sustainable” – and that around £14million in additional savings needs to be found over two years. The briefing note issued for Wednesday’s meeting gives examples where difficult decisions need to be taken – but stresses that, as yet, no hard decision have been taken.

Councillors are being informed that officials are keep to provide information in a manner that will be useful and accessible to the public – giving local communities a “real opportunity to influence the difficult decisions that have to be made”.

In his report to Councillors, corporate services director Mark Palmer says: “More detailed information will be made available to enable members of the public to learn more about the services provided by the council, the budget allocations for those services and the external requirements and constraints within which the council is required to operate.

“The current estimate is that by 2017-18, if no action were taken, then council services would cost £14million more to provide than the annual income received.

“In terms of engagement with communities, the first challenge will be to gain a much wider understanding of the financial situation and the types of changes councillors will have to make.”

Earlier this year the local authority called on up to £7million from reserves to bolster the 2016/17 budget after being told that they could not use an increase in Council Tax to bridge the shortfall.

The Council Administration say that having already imposed saving of around £25million over the last five years it is becoming increasingly difficult to find more without harming essential services.

However, the main SNP opposition group insist that the Independent/Tory administration was taking Moray down a “unpalatable” path, leader Cllr Gary Coull saying: “We identified some areas of saving which the public have been keen for the council to pursue – but they have been ignored by administration councillors.”

Council Convener Allan Wright admitted that many of the options up for debate in the consultations would not be popular, saying: “We will carry out five months of public consultation around this [discussion paper] – we are engaging with people as never before.  I promise we have not made our minds up here – these are just things Mr Palmer has asked us to look into.”