Election17: Taxing Questions – John Mitchell, Heldon & Laich

All individual candidates or political groups contesting the forthcoming local council elections in Moray are invited to state their case through the pages of our community news site – contact for submissions is editor@insidemoray.news. Here we have views of John Mitchell, Liberal Democrat candidate for Heldon & Laich.

IT HAS ALREADY BEEN STATED numerous times that the biggest challenge the Moray Council will face in the coming years is financial.

The outgoing administration will know this all too well and it is my view that this is one of the reasons why we will see so many current councillors step aside. Just how much can really be done when the council is so limited? Are any projects really going to be viable, or is the council just going to have to face down more cuts?

According to Audit Scotland, Moray Council’s budget has been cut by 9% over the past several years. The latest budget passed by the SNP minority government with Green support is no help to Moray and funding will contract by a further 2.9%.

I want to serve my community and under the Liberal Democrat banner. This is important and one of the reasons I chose to join the party itself was because of its commitment to local government, localism and against centralisation.

On the subject of taxation, one of the main frustrations I have with our current government in Edinburgh is the council tax freeze, where council tax has been frozen from 2008 until this year, which has cost the Scottish Government £2.5billion according to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre’s (SPICE) report.

Imagine if some of that money had come to Moray or local government. Would the position Moray Council now find itself in be as dire?

The Scottish Government has since ended the council tax freeze but with huge restrictions. Local councils can only vary the rate by a 3% increase or decrease. In these circumstances and during the freeze it is council tenants, our bus services, people in desperate need of housing, and our libraries and schools which have been hit hardest, as the council scrambles to save money but has very limited powers to raise any money.

Some of Scotland’s councils have chosen to maintain the freeze. It is particularly perplexing in the case of Labour run councils in South Lanarkshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire. This likely amounts to electioneering but also highlights a Labour party that is not really serious about challenging the SNP’s approach to local government either.

Meanwhile, the SNP have set out their own stall and will press ahead with their plans to amalgamate council services with other areas. This bluntly will mean cuts but disguised as stealth cuts or efficiency savings. Moray Council already finds it hard to punch its weight for influence where it is sandwiched between Aberdeenshire and Highland councils.

Such an idea and to hand over local decision making with merging services will leave Moray in a position where it is increasingly convenient to be ignored. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities or COSLA is on the record in saying that Scotland has some of the most centralised local government in Europe.

In the coming weeks I will set out my priorities to you over the next council term. In Heldon and Laich you will have the chance to elect a Liberal Democrat councillor who will be a passionate advocate for your community, will fight to improve and protect services and I will continue to support reform of local government which is absolutely necessary.

Despite significant problems, things can and must be better. I hope that you will take the opportunity to have your say on May 4.

I can be contacted at john_mitchell88@hotmail.co.uk if anyone wishes to do so and would welcome comments or questions.

Other candidates in the Heldon & Laich ward are: James Allan (Scottish Conservative and Unionist), John Cowe (Independent), Ryan Edwards (Independent), James MacKessack-Leitch (Scottish Greens), Amy Patience (SNP), Dennis Slater (Independent).