MORAY IS BEING PREPARED for its most widespread ever series of public consultations as councillors and officials seek to identify where £14million can be saved in the next two years.
The stark realities of the position the region is in were outlined to members of a council committee yesterday by the local authority chief executive, Roddy Burns, who spoke on a report by the Accounts Commission on local government finance.
Mr Burns told members of the audit and scrutiny committee: “We have been successful in balancing our budget despite increasing financial pressures.
“However, over the next five years we will be facing a different proposition. There are increasing difficulties in terms of delivering services, with particular demand being created by our growing school estate and ageing population.
“There needs to be a deep engagement with our communities to make sure that they are fully involved in decisions that are taken.”
The next round of annual budget decisions taken will be against the backdrop of Council Elections, which would normally have already taken place but were delayed a year because of the timing of UK and Scottish Government elections.
This week a possible late change in the balance of power in the Council chamber was avoided when Tory member Douglas Ross, who has just been elected to Holyrood, said he will remain as a member of the council until the elections in May next year.
Council leader Stewart Cree therefore knows he will remain at the head of the Independent/Tory Administration through the next round of budget cuts – and is warning of the difficult times ahead, with possible school closures once again coming under the microscope.
He said: “We have a very large school estate for the size of the authority, and in some cases are still educating our children in expensive Victorian buildings. At the moment, any discussion on school closures is constrained by the moratorium – but following May’s council elections [next year] it will be up to that administration to decide whether to maintain that.
“Parents may agree that having one modern school in place of three old ones is a good idea.”
Currently, talk on any plans to shut down schools are subjected to a moratorium imposed two years ago in the wake of protests over plans for a widespread reorganisation of the school estate, including the proposed closure of Milnes High School.
The moratorium was intended to give assurances over the future of schools for at least five years.