Council Cuts go ahead as additional funding slightly eases future pressure

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MORAY COUNCILLORS WILL be asked to agree stringent cuts to services, an increase in Council Tax and several compulsory redundancies when they consider their budget cuts next week.

Despite members of the ruling administration group admitting that the settlement from the Scottish Government would be largely in line with what was received last year, and not the £5million cut anticipated, most of the measures in the draft budget put out for consultation late last year remain in place.

That includes a 50% cut in the school library service, reducing school crossing patrols by removing them at lunchtime – and losing 89 posts within the Council itself – with 45 of those being compulsory.  Cuts will be made in school transport provision while savings are also sought by changes to waste collection, picking up residual waste on a three-week cycle rather than the current two.

Council Tax will go up by the maximum 3% permitted by the Scottish Government as they strive to save £6.4million in the coming year – using reserves of £4.3million to do so.

Several town halls are also under threat, with plans to close those at Elgin, Forres, Findochty, Cullen and the Fisherman’s Hall in Buckie unless communities come forward with viable asset transfer proposals.  The same applies to Dufftown and Cullen Community Centres.

Council Tax Increase

The Council Tax increase will see Band A household paying £23.38 more each year, while those in Band H will face a £85.93 increase. These figures do not include charges for water and waste water which are collected alongside Council Tax on behalf of Scottish Water, nor do they take into account any Council Tax Reduction, discount or exemption which may be due in individual cases.

Those with second homes who until now have received a 10% discount on Council Tax will have that right withdrawn.

The savings being planned are set to impact almost every branch of Council services, as well as support provided to other service.  The £30,000 annual contribution to Moray Citizens Advice will be withdrawn despite warnings over the effect that would have including the possible closure of services in Moray.

One of the largest reductions will come in the Council contribution to the Moray Integration Joint Board, who will receive £1.2million less than previously.  Public toilets will be cut with a saving of £31,000 on top of the £16,000 twelve months ago, while reductions in Road Gritting will save £31,000.

Staff reductions will also hit the Community Warden service with a saving of £35,000.

On Friday evening Councillor John Cowe, chair of the economic development and infrastructure committee, spoke on the weekly radio show Moray Newsbeat about the proposals, saying: “The fact that the government grant this year was, dare I say, better than expected, it was still £3million less than in previous years.

“And given through the auspices of the Greens we have an extra £2.7million we are still in a position that we have to find almost £13.5million in savings next year. It becomes more and more difficult to actually find a way of finding that money.”

Councillor Cowe acknowledge that the additional funding provided in the Scottish Budget will help reduce the weight of burden on the council reserves, putting them in a slightly better position towards the £13.5million savings required in the 2019/20 budget round while still maintaining the £5million minimum level of reserves required by law.