Opinion: Are Councillors in Moray fighting a battle they cannot win?

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Today the leader of the Conservative group at Moray Council, Councillor Tim Eagle, returns to the pages of insideMORAY to give his view on the ongoing local authority budget negotiations.

Yesterday COSLA renewed its call to the Scottish Government to allocate fair funding to councils in order that we, your elected members, can ensure not just the continuity of the services you depend on but also give us the freedom to expand, transform and make them better.

We all know that Moray faces some very serious problems. We know that the 2018 budget, which will be made in just a few weeks’ time, will really start to effect front-line services.

I would like to thank all of you that took the time to respond to the budget survey, Email Councillors, comment on Facebook or write letters in with your viewpoints. I am also so very thankful for those communities who have joined together to form groups to take over some of the local facilities that have been consulted upon in the budget.

I am confident your local councillors will be there to support you every step of the way.

I know, that there are still things in the budget that you don’t wish and discussions continue on all the options we have – but I can only tell you the truth and that is that without more funding we have no choice but to make some very difficult decisions.

The frustration felt by many in the council because of the situation we are in is telling on many of us. I am normally a calm person and came into the council with a deep passion for wanting to work with officers and other members to bring a real positive change to Moray.

Yet just this week the sheer enormity of the situation, the huge frustrations of where we are and where we have to get to in order to set a budget, which needs to cut near £20million next year, has played deeply on my mind.

Opposition critical but offering no solutions

The Administration group is now firming up its proposals in the light of the responses we have received. And yet, with only a few weeks to go, we still have nothing from the SNP opposition group.

We have been attacked by Richard Lochhead MSP for some of our proposals – and I have been attacked by a leader of the SNP councillors for not talking to COSLA about the situation we face.

Despite the fact that we have written letters, told the truth in the press and our leader has represented us at COSLA meetings.

Councillor Tim Eagle

If the SNP group do have ideas then we need them to bring them forward now, so we can ensure they are fully costed and worked out before budget day. Last minute is not good enough.

Since coming into the Council I believe I have tried hard to tell the truth and get the real stories out to the people of Moray through insideMoray and the local newspapers. This is important.

To some extent because of the openness of all administration councillors this was a well talked about and reasonably debated consultation, with some real positives coming from it. We have hidden nothing in giving out real figures as to where we are and what is still to come. We have shared key information on public halls and community centres, so communities could really look at what they could do in their area.

And we are being open with communities about the sustainable education review and the consultation which will come to Buckie. We are also heavily involved with the new local development plan which will be the core of everything we do.

I have to admit though there is a part of me that wonders how much longer I can continue in my current roles. I have spent a lot of time recently speaking with teachers and other staff who work in education, listening to the positives and negatives of school life.

I have spent much time really trying to understand the complexity of our leisure estate and thinking about what we need going forward, in order to ensure a Moray where health and wellbeing is at the core of our communities.

But, and again it is a big but, I feel suffocated at every turn by the Scottish Government. Changes to Non-Domestic Rates and VAT could hamper any thoughts about developing a new leisure trust in Moray that could expand and enhance our estate. New legislation and lack of money means making the big changes needed in order to increase attainment in our schools, offer more Higher options to our students, attract the best teachers and provide the best school estate has become almost impossible.

COSLA are right, we need fair funding. Moray does suffer, it is a small council, it is rural, it has many different areas all needing support.

There is a question always on my mind for the Scottish Government and that is – while you may aspire to put in place many new ideas and new pieces of legislation, why do you fund activities that in a time of economic uncertainty are desirable rather than essential?

By doing so, you fail to make sure you are funding correctly the essential services that are really needed like our schools, our hospitals, social services and infrastructure. You also fail to take the time to plan for the future, failing to ensure that the pay and conditions for essential workers such as doctors, teachers and nurses make these vocations attractive and bring in the very best candidates.

Moray is suffering – and we cannot wait for support any longer. So why are we waiting? Why do we wait to see if the local SNP group will supply any costed support to the 2018 budget and why are we still waiting for the Scottish Government to announce a serious upgrade in funding to ensure the protection and enhancement of core council services?

I remain committed to the people of Moray but as every day passes I wonder if I am fighting a losing battle.

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