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The Leader of Moray Council, Cllr Graham Leadbitter, has welcomed positive budget news following negotiations between the SNP and the Green Party in Holyrood.
The improved position included additional core funding and greater flexibility around Council Tax and Health & Social Care funding.
This followed last minutes concessions from Scottish Ministers yesterday to secure support for their budget from the Scottish Greens. Concessions secured by the Greens include immediate budget changes and bold long-terms reforms to boost the funding of local council services such as schools and social care.
The deal will give Moray Council access to a funding package worth up to an extra £3.2 million.
When combined with existing local revenue powers, this will close the £237m gap in council funding, identified by the local government body COSLA.
Ministers have also agreed to a timescale for replacing the broken, unfair Council Tax system. This will be developed by a cross-party process starting before the summer, and legislation will be published before the end of this session of parliament. They have also committed to giving councils greater fundraising powers including the ability to charge a visitor levy, as is commonplace in other European cities and regions.
Commenting yesterday Cllr Leadbitter said: “The news from the Scottish Parliament is very welcome and the combination of additional funds and flexibility are a big help towards closing our remaining budget deficit.
“It is vital, however, that we are not complacent. There are still tough choices facing the council and the SNP Administration will be working closely with council officers over the next few weeks to budget day to look at every possible option that could mitigate against the hardest choices we are facing.
“We have had a great response from Moray’s communities to take up Fit Life Memberships and it really important that momentum is maintained.
“While the budget news is increasingly positive there is still a budget gap to close and the SNP are committed to working with others to get Moray Council’s finances into a sustainable position. That means continuing with the hard work and keeping that going throughout the year. We have to deal with the immediate budget issues and work on medium and long-term plans that will get us on an even keel.”
Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie said: “The public rely on local services such as schools and social care, and local facilities such as sports centres and libraries. Today’s Green budget deal means that Moray Council now has an additional £3.2 million to protect these services and the jobs of front line workers.
“It’s welcome that after consistent Green pressure the SNP Government has seen sense and committed to immediate action and longer-term reform.
“Scottish Greens will always be firm but constructive in these situations. Scrapping the Tories’ Council Tax is a historic victory. All parties now have an opportunity to help bring about a fairer system of funding essential local services.
“On top of recent reforms to Income Tax, today’s deal shows yet again Scottish Greens are leading the change, making Scotland the fairer country we know we can be.”
Not everybody welcomed the deal. Conservative MSP for Highlands & Islands Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “The budget remains a terrible deal for Moray. While the Scottish Government’s budget is increasing, Moray’s budget will still be sliced. These announcements will barely make a dent in the cuts that threaten local public services.
“The SNP have broken their own manifesto promise by increasing the cap on council tax rises in a clear attempt to shift responsibility for cuts from Holyrood to their SNP colleagues on Moray Council; colleagues they have hung out to dry.
“Meanwhile, the Scottish Greens have been played like a fiddle. They’ve willingly accepted vague promises of talks on council tax reform, but with actual action ruled out before the next Holyrood elections in 2021.
“The SNP are not just letting down Moray, they’re letting down their own SNP councillors. Moray’s SNP representatives must now put Moray’s interests first and make their opposition to these SNP cuts from Edinburgh clear.”
However, Moray MSP Richard Lochhead MSP welcomed the deal, saying: “I welcome the additional funding that has been allocated to Moray Council that will bring some relief both for the ruling administration and also our local communities. Hopefully, Moray can move forward and respond positively to some of the concerns expressed by local communities in light of what is a very challenging financial backdrop.
“For Moray we’re looking at having an additional £3.2m this financial year allowing at least some of the proposed cuts to be mitigated or cancelled.
“I know from speaking with constituents that swimming pools, active schools and libraries are top priorities.
“The new SNP administration have been working flat out to set a balanced budget since they took over just 7 months ago, after the Tory Councillors walked out when the going got tough. It is staggering that the Tories, who have been going into overdrive to make political capital out of a dire financial situation they helped create, went on to vote against more money for Moray.”