Conservative group leader lays it on line for people of Moray

MORAY IS FACING quite possibly its biggest crisis ever – with informed predictions that reserve funding at Moray Council likely to completely vanish over the next few years. Budget considerations open this week for Moray Councillors – ahead of that we have this feature from the Leader of the Conservative Group at Moray Council.

Councillor Tim Eagle outlines for insideMORAY readers the enormity of the task facing all Councillors and through them the people of Moray…..

Councillor Tim Eagle, leader of the Conservative group at Moray Council

EVERY NIGHT AS I PUT MY TWO ELDEST children to bed I read them a story. Last night they pulled of the shelf a book we have recently borrowed from Buckie Library. It was called A Child’s Garden – A story of Hope by Michael Foreman.

It was a lovely story about a boy growing a plant in a broken village torn apart and divided by war. The plant was a small piece of green in a fallen & broken landscape.

My children began to ask questions about why the boy was living in a broken home surrounded by fences. I told them about the devastation of war but also of the hope of the boy to see a time when he would be united with his friends again.

As a Christian I have always been someone who liked to hope. When I hear a friend is sick I pray and hope for recovery, when I have to lead a meeting or give a speech I have hope that I can do it well.

I also had hope when I entered the council back in May. I was always aware of the current financial situation, but had some hope or belief that surely changes could be made after all it must be the previous Councillors that are causing this, right!

As the months after the election have gone by, I realise now I was wrong.

The councillors I work with are dedicated and hardworking, none wish to bring pain to anyone in Moray and I would think all are hopeful we can together find a way through. The truth is this will not be easy. I don’t think as a councillor – I can’t offer you many nice Christmas presents this year.

Soon we will look to consult with you, as we release details of what we believe would have to be done to save Moray Council from bankruptcy. It won’t be pretty and I can assure you I feel the pain of what we will talk to you about as much as any of you.

I wanted to take you back though and give you answers to some of the questions I have been asking.

The first obvious question for me was what is the change in income from the Scottish Government over the last few years. The graph below shows that. Now, Moray council gets money in a variety of ways, principally this is from a block grant from the Scottish Government which is topped up by Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates businesses pay.

This graph shows the block grant from the Scottish Government. It shows it has gone up by nearly £3million. Maybe like you are thinking now my first question was, well why the issues then?

To answer that I had to sit down with the chief accountant at Moray Council and look at what has changed over the last seven years. This is shown on the graph below.

During the last seven years the Scottish Government has, as perhaps a government should, changed things. New legislation has passed,  new policies created – many of these impact the council.

The first column of the graph below shows the funded growth. This is money the Scottish Government have provided when a new policy is implemented. As examples this included money for the council tax reduction scheme, money for kinship care and money for developing the young workforce. The second column shows unfunded growth.

This is responsibilities we have no choice but to provide or do but where we get no money to help with it. This includes Wage inflation, care home fee increases, growth in community care, landfill tax increases, additional support need increase and many more.

When you add the two columns together you have an additional spending requirement of £39million over the last seven years. Take away that increase we saw earlier and you can quickly see that Moray Council has an additional £36million of expenditure it has to do but no more money to do it with, despite some of the funded growth.

That left previous councillors with no choice, save or go bust. As we all want Moray to survive the council had to dig deep making huge savings across the board, really scaling back projects and plans, reducing staff and removing services. The graph below shows the annual savings the council has made since 2010/11. A total of around £35million.

From what I hear that was not fun for any previous councillor who really struggled to have to make those cuts as they affected you all so much. Despite the pain of it they made near £3million savings through staff reductions over the seven years, along with cuts to the devolved school management budget, direct services and many more.

I can only offer my absolute assurance that the main office building has never been protected. Many backroom services have been slashed over the years and we will all continue to look at what happens in Moray Council offices.

I know this is an easy area to reach out too, I often here we need to get rid of those big salaries! I would agree, in part, but remember without some of those managers you could not have the services you have on the ground. No business I know can run without managerial support. However, we will always be reviewing this.

As yet we don’t know what will come. That is why both COSLA (Confederation of all Scottish Local authorities) and the local Conservative group which I lead put our press releases and letters asking that we be given the money we need, to provide you with the services you need.

I am worried that we will get another one year settlement that does not allow us to plan for the future, that more money will be taken of us which means we have to make more devastating cuts and that more and more rather than coming together to work for Moray as we all should be, we will be driven into division.

Like the boy in the book above who hoped his communities would unite again I can have no more than hope. Hope that together we will talk with respect to each other about what the future holds, hope that the Scottish Government will provide all councils with the funding needed and hope that councillors and officers alike will continually strive to reduce red tape, liaise with our communities and build a Moray that is both financially viable and one we can be proud off.

I pledged my supporters I would always tell them the truth and tell them what is happening, and I won’t shy away from doing that over the coming months, however difficult it may be.