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MORAY SNP POLITICIANS are being slammed for attempting to mislead the public over the dangerous situation being faced by Moray Council.
Earlier this week the Administration group of Conservative and Independent Councillors forced through a budget that saw cuts of over £6million – including £1million in services that the SNP insisted could have been protected.
Having failed to force a change of mind in the Council Chamber, however, the SNP now say they are set to assist in public protests against the cuts.
However, repeated claims that the Council received £4million extra in funding from the Scottish Government are being dismissed as “misleading” – while Administration leaders are pointing to the fact that even with better than expected central funding, they still had to use over £4million from the council reserves to balance the budget.
The row developed when SNP MSP Richard Lochhead announced his party would help public groups in organised protests against the budget decisions.
He said: “For months Tory and Independent Councillors jumped up and down demanding more cash from the Scottish Government, which they duly received to the tune of £4million. To then force through a budget that hits education and Moray’s schools is a complete betrayal of our local communities.
“It is clear that there’s a determination within communities to continue to fight these cuts and they can be assured that local SNP representatives will be on their side as we continue the battle to save local services, including school librarians, technicians and community halls.”
The attack was continued by the co-leaders of the SNP at Moray Council. Councillor Graham Leadbitter said: “This week’s vote in Moray Council was a betrayal of Moray by the Council’s Tory-led Administration. They lined up to back a budget that cut more than a million pounds from education and children’s services, cuts that every SNP Councillor voted against.
“Along with many others in Moray we are not taking this lying down. It is unacceptable for the Tories and Independents running Moray Council to call for more money to protect services, to then get an additional £4million and not to protect services.”
Councillor Shona Morrison included individual attacks on ruling group members, adding: “The Tory-Independent budget for Moray is utterly shameful. In my own ward it is hard to stomach that the local Conservative councillor, Marc Macrae, voted to cut librarian and technician provision in the local school and I don’t know how he can look constituents in the face after pledging to support schools.
“Conservative Councillor for Keith & Cullen Donald Gatt voted to put the Longmore Hall at risk, despite it not being included in the consultation, giving the community little time to respond before the threat of closure.
“In Lossiemouth Conservative Councillor James Allan and Independent Councillor John Cowe both voted to cut Towns Partnership funding, which has supported economic development in Lossiemouth for eight years. In Buckie, Conservative Group Leader Tim Eagle and Independent Councillor Gordon Cowie also voted to hit education and economic development budgets hard undermining the hard work of our schools and the wider community.
“They have got £4million more than they expected and just 1 million of that extra funding would have saved all of these services and more. It is utterly unacceptable.”
Conservatives hit back
Last night leading members of the Conservative group slammed the “misleading and cynical” statements made by the SNP leadership in Moray.
Their group leader, Councillor Tim Eagle, said: “It’s easy for SNP councillors in opposition, who bear no burden of responsibility to balance the budget, to make negative comments which appear to be designed to mislead the public into thinking that we had any choice about making economies.
“I had two huge folders of information with me at the budget meeting the other day gathered from hours and hours of conversations with the most senior officers in the council. We spent months looking at council services and finances and trying to find a plan for the future despite the horrendous attack on local government finances by the SNP government.
“The Scottish Parliament’s own information centre (SPICe) said in its recent report on local government finance that “Looking at the more comparable years between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the local government Revenue Budget fell by 6.9%, whereas the Scottish Government Revenue Budget fell by only 1.6%.
“After years of cuts in funding and ever increasing burdens upon us, we have to ensure we can turn Moray around – and that meant having to make very difficult decisions. We have been open and honest with the public about this – but have been met with a belligerent SNP group who seem to be in denial about the fix their own government has put the Council in.”
Councillor Eagle told insideMORAY that it was only weeks before council budget day that the SNP group finally provided a budget proposal – and that contained no alternative savings for 2019/20.
He continued: “It is pleasing to hear our SNP MSP Richard Lochhead belatedly offer to take a delegation to see the cabinet secretary for finance to talk about our situation. But why is he only waking up to this now?
“When we wrote a letter to the same cabinet secretary in November asking for help, the co-leader of the SNP group, Shona Morrison, called us “ludicrous” – and the SNP group refused to support the letter.”
Planning and Regulatory Services committee chair Marc Macrae added that not one person on the Administration group wished to see any service cuts or job losses. He continued: “With the major cut to funding year on year it is no longer possible to ignore all areas of the councils remit.
“In the SNP government settlement letter to COSLA, Derek Mackay made it very clear that if a local authority rejected the offer made they would receive a ‘revised and inevitably less favourable offer.”
‘Additional’ £4million claim not true
Councillor Eagle also dismissed the claim from the SNP that the Council has received an additional £4million in funding – the result predominantly of a Scottish budget intervention by the Scottish Greens.
He said: “During Wednesday’s budget meeting both Councillor Leadbitter and Councillor Morrison said there was an “additional £4million funding” available to Moray Council.
“This statement is utterly misleading and cynical in intent. As clearly indicated by the leader of the council, Moray has not received £4million extra in funding – with unfunded burdens taken into account the Council ended up with around £600,000 less than last year.
“The extra money they are talking about does not exist. It exists only in the SNP’s collective mind where you can take one negative figure and minus it off another one and somehow think you found money.
“In the papers written by the Council’s financial team, which every SNP councillor has seen, it clearly shows the Council has an ever-depleting reserve fund. Even with the economies we have made we will need to use £4.3million in reserves this year.
“That would mean by next year we have only £10million in reserves – for an area the size of Moray that is a very small amount of money to deal with any emergencies.”
Councillor Eagle concluded: “We remain sad and upset that we needed to make these budget savings and our thoughts go out to all staff that will lose their jobs because of the budget.
“We are not the evil people we are being made out to be – we are the people who continue to make the brave decisions needed now to protect our future and reform our services.”