Feature: Forres councillor on why he is prepared to stand again

Yesterday we reported that Forres councillor George Alexander was preparing to run again in May – despite the difficulties facing Moray.  Today, we are please to publish Councillor Alexander’s full statement on just why he feels it important to seek re-election….

Councillor George Alexander

Having served almost five years already, I can honestly say that I have learned a great deal about how local government works and I am somewhat ashamed that I knew so little about the subject before I was elected.

Two things I did know, before being elected, were firstly, the fact that increasing costs and responsibilities, coupled with cuts in funding from central government, means that all regional councils have to make radical decisions about which services they can continue to provide and also, how these services can be provided more efficiently in the future.

Secondly, such changes can only take place if we elect 26 councillors to the Moray Council who fully understand the seriousness of the council’s financial position and who have the courage to vote through the changes which are necessary.

Whilst I recognise that the 2012-17 council has done an excellent job under very difficult circumstances, unfortunately we did not take all the difficult decisions that were necessary to help balance the budget – and I believe that this was due partly to political party dogma and partly due to a lack of courage on the part of some councillors.

It is an inescapable fact that central government is unwilling to raise the taxes necessary, in order to help local government maintain services. Consequently, the only options available to local councillors are to increase charges and cut services while continually looking to improve efficiencies.

Two Councils battling to keep Moray afloat – and the future of Education

The last two councils have done so much cutting and streamlining of services that we are now in a position where some really big decisions must be made. As an example, the next council cannot continue to support our heavily subsidised leisure facilities, as previous councils have done. Local communities will have to take responsibility for their local facilities such as community halls, if they wish such spaces to continue to be available for use.

One service which I feel passionately about and which absorbs about forty-four percent of the council’s revenue budget, (ie the budget for the day to day running of services), is education.

I want to see our young people in Moray getting a better education service than they do at present, or have done for the past twenty years. Here in Moray, with a population of about 95,000 souls, we are still providing this service through 45 primary schools and 8 secondary schools.

I believe that the education service needs a thorough review, if we are to give our young people an excellent educational opportunity, with equity of service throughout the region. If we continue to ignore the fact that we have too many schools and the fact that some of them are in the wrong place for a modern society, then this service will not only continue to fail many of our young people, but it will also continue to be a wasteful use of resources.

Education in all the northern regions is suffering from the fact that teaching is no longer the attractive profession that it used to be. We have great difficulty recruiting staff to some positions, but we should not allow politicians to use this as a smoke screen to hide the fact that our education service in Moray is stuck in a past age and is in need of a root and branch review.

The school estate in Moray has been in need of rationalisation for more than twenty years and every year that this is delayed will simply make the essential and inevitable changes more difficult to accept.

Those who are employed in the provision of education in Moray are well aware of the fact that the service is in need of a thorough overhaul and the pressure on staff to maintain a reasonable level of service is becoming unbearable.

The education support service in the council headquarters has had to release personnel to cover gaps in school classrooms. Vast sums of money have to be spent just to keep schools in functional mode. Any changes to the school estate requires negotiation of complicated government legislation, which means that there is a long lead in time to effecting radical change and if councillors continue to lack the resolve to make change, then the young people of Moray will continue to suffer for years to come.

My concern is not only for our young people in Moray but also for the morale of our teaching staff, on whom we place ever increasing demands. Despite the best efforts of our teachers and administrators in the education service, we will not reap the full benefits of these efforts until we reconfigure our school estate and make best use of the skilled professionals we employ.

Strong leadership required

The role of a regional councillor is not only to look after the interests of the citizens of his/her ward but also to provide leadership to an organisation which provides a range of vital services and which employs in excess of 4000 people.

It is difficult for me to judge whether my period as a councillor has been of any benefit at all to my fellow citizens. What I do know is that I have given of my best and done all in my power to keep the cost, to the public purse, to a minimum whilst maintaining a reasonable level of service.

The successes which the 2012-17 Moray Council has achieved, and there are many, will always be tarnished, in my opinion, by our failure to carry through to its conclusion, the debate on sustainable education.

Therefore I give notice to the voters of Ward 8 that I will be standing at the May election on a promise to do all I can to revive the sustainable education review and bring about a rationalisation of the school estate during the next Moray Council.

I will not be delivering leaflets to every household in the ward and I will not be trying to persuade voters that I am the best person for the job, because I know that there will be a wide choice of excellent candidates on the ballot paper for the Forres ward.

However, I will be encouraging all those with the right to vote to do so, because it is only with a high turnout that we can persuade national government to take heed of what local councils are saying.

At the forthcoming election I will relax in the knowledge that the electorate will decide what will be the main focus of the next five years of my life.

If I am privileged to be chosen to serve for another five years, then I can guarantee that I will continue to apply the same dedication to the task that I have applied in the past five years, with the added advantage of being better informed. If selected to serve then I will do so in the full knowledge that the next council will face a monumental task, which will require a unity of purpose amongst the 26 councillors and a dedicated leadership which has the wellbeing of all Moray citizens as its foremost priority.

However, if it transpires that I am not selected to serve for a further term, then I will thank the electorate for allowing me the privilege of having served as a councillor for five years and it may well be that a part of me will be more than happy to ride off into the sunset and enjoy retirement.