Ice-age of austerity is outlined in Council budget plans

Savage cuts are detailed in Council report.

THE EXTENT TO which services need to be cut in Moray to save around £12million has been revealed in a paper being put to Councillors next week.

Against the backdrop of warnings that the local authority could go bankrupt unless drastic measures are taken, the paper outlines savage cuts that will see just about everyone pay more and receive less.

Top of the list is a widely anticipated increase in Council Tax set at the maximum allowable 3%, aimed at bringing in just over £1million to the regional coffers. That, along with band increases already revealed by the Scottish Government, will see an annual tax bill increase of between £22.70 and £594.17.

Even with over £7million being used from fast-dwindling Council reserves, the report says that a series of cuts will be required – along across-the-board increases in the services the local authority provides to the public.

The number of roads being treated in severe weather will be cut, while flood protection schemes that had been planned for Portessie and Hopeman will be dropped from the 10-year-plan – a bitter blow for both communities who had thought funding would still be available.

If accepted by councillors there will also be a 5% increase in the cost of school meals while those youngsters obtaining music lessons, who already faced a 20% increase last year, will now be expected to pay another extra 5%.

‘Rainy Day’ has arrived as over £7m will be slashed from Council reserves.

Organisations whose survival is in part owed to council funding will also be hit – tsiMoray would be informed that the council commitment to three-years funding is withdrawn, while the Moray Towns Partnership has been told that the council may choose to stop their annual revenue grant from April next year.

The Scottish Government will also be warned that their plans for an extensive increase in pre-school provision will only go ahead when the local authority is assured that it will be 100% funded by them.

Laying the blame firmly on the Scottish Government for the crisis-level cutbacks, the paper says: “The council receives around 80% of its revenue funding from Scottish Government. Over the last seven years, this grant funding has increased, but by less than the cost of new duties required of local authorities.

“Inflation increases for pay and prices and growth in demand for services in some areas have therefore had to be balanced by efficiency savings and cuts in services. Audit Scotland has identified the move in Scottish Government funding for local authorities between 2010/11 and 2015/16 as a 8.4% reduction in real terms. As previously reported, the council has made savings totalling £30million since 2010/11.”

Political Differences

Stewart Cree – cut or go bankrupt.

Council leader Stewart Cree, who is not seeking re-election in May, warned that without the proposed measures the council coffers could be “cleaned out by September 2018” unless central government comes up with more funding.

Taking a swipe at the SNP opposition group, who are yet to reveal their alternative plans in full to insideMoray, Councillor Cree said: “The SNP have spoken in broad terms about a ‘strategic approach’ which sounds like a phrase a management consultant would dream up.

“We have a 10-year plan in place – but we are facing these same old criticisms which don’t hold weight. There is not a councillor in Moray who wants to reduce services – but that is the situation we are in.

“I would like us to grit every road, pavement and set of steps in the area but we have to focus on the roads that have an economic and social purpose. I think we are no longer in a position where the public needs to be persuaded into understanding how severe the situation is – the figures are there in black and white.

“The message is clear and if things do not change then at some time around September we will not have any money.”

On the future childcare provision, a Scottish Government spokesman has issued an assurance that the additional costs will come from central funds: “The government is committed to meeting the additional costs to deliver the expansion of early learning and childcare to 1140 hours by 2020.

“The Scottish Budget allocates £30million of new capital investment in 2017/18 to support the expansion and we are currently working on how to allocate that to local authorities.”

It is widely expected that the SNP group on Moray Council will propose measures such as reducing wages for senior council staff and seek greater sharing of services with adjoining local authorities.

Full details of the budget proposals, which will be discussed by a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday, are available online.