THERE WAS ANOTHER acrimonious debate in the Moray Council chamber yesterday when leading opposition and administration group members clashed over a lack of priority being given to poverty.
SNP councillors clashed with the Council Leader, Stewart Cree, during a meeting of the policy and resources committee, when Councillor Cree indicated that any elevation of the priority given to poverty by the local authority should be left until after the next council elections.
That angered several SNP members, most notably Elgin councillor Mike Shand and Buckie member Gordon McDonald.
Councillors were considering an update on welfare support undertaken by the local authority in which several measures aimed at mitigating the impacts of UK Government cuts in disability and sickness benefits were highlighted.
While all members praised the work of the Welfare Support Team, there was a fierce exchange when a passionate speech by Councillor Shand included an expression of his deep regret that poverty had still not become a priority for the local authority.
Councillor Shand said it was a matter of “deep shame” that this was not the case, and he was backed by Councillor McDonald, who proposed an amendment to the effect that the local authority urgently made poverty a priority.
However, Councillor Cree responded that the local authority could have 50 priorities but that would only mean that nothing was a priority.
Pressed by Cllr Shand, the Leader insisted: “This Council is dealing with poverty, we have had many reports when nobody, including yourself, highlighted that this was a priority. But when we state it as a fact, it becomes an issue – I have never had anyone come to my door and say you are not dealing with poverty.
“We are dealing with it very well as our record will show, better than most authorities. But what Cllr McDonald also highlighted is that we need to re-examine it formally in the round as a result of the myriad of changes that have taken place in legislation such as the famed bedroom tax. We need to do that, yes, things have moved on, yes, are we doing well – yes, and I stand by that, we are doing well.
“So for you to say for the first time and for no reason whatsoever that this has just become a priority – I am amazed. I have not heard anyone in this council in ten years suggest that it should be a priority, but today it has suddenly become one.”
Following the meeting Councillor Shand said: “First of all there is a great deal of good work being done by the Welfare Support Team, amongst others, to help people in poverty in Moray but the report also spelled out the fact that the Council doesn’t give this issue the priority that it clearly needs.
“Now, more than ever, we need poverty to be given that priority in the Council. It is not enough to simply ride on the coattails of the good work of small teams.
“As Councillors our responsibility is to ensure that the right level of support is there and that poverty is recognised for the scourge that it is and given the priority it deserves.
“What was deeply concerning was the Council Leader’s comments which seemed to suggest that the Independent/Tory Administration would rather this was left to the next Council Administration. In other words, he was prepared to be the Leader of a Lame Duck Administration for its final year in office!
“That is not acceptable the SNP councillors. This needs to be acted upon quicker than that and that is what we called for and what, ultimately, the committee supported.”