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Councillors yesterday, Tuesday 13 February, agreed to continuing support for the many community groups and other charities running offices and community halls, but withdrew that support from charity shops across Moray.
In a move that is going to save the Council less than £6,000, but might cost the charities affected a total of well over £20,000, Councillors agreed to withdraw discretionary rate relief from charities using their premises for retail.
The decision spared “local charitable and community organisations, such as community halls”, in line with a statement from the Chair of Moray Council’s Policy & Resources Committee, Cllr Aaron McLean, released ahead of the debate.
In his statement, released on Monday, Councillor McLean said: “There has been a lot of concern raised by community groups about the report that Councillors are set to consider on Discretionary Rates Relief at the Council’s Policy & Resources Committee on Tuesday. Concerns centre around whether rates reliefs could be removed from community groups and I want to make it clear the SNP Administration Group have no intention of proposing the removal of those reliefs.
“The documents that have been presented with the report list the organisations and premises that receive rates reliefs, however this is not a proposal from the SNP to remove all of those reliefs.
“We are considering what options could be taken forward, however we have no intention of proposing the removal of rates reliefs from local charitable and community organisations, such as community halls.
“Having had the opportunity to speak with some of the other councillors I am confident that this view has broad support and there should be no cause for concern amongst community organisations about this report.”
That Councillors are deeply engaged in their communities was confirmed when many members of the Policy and Resources Committee, which was considering the proposals, had to declare an interest due to their connections with the groups potentially affected by the decision, and withdraw from the debate.
Most of those remaining in the room had connections with other groups not affected by the proposals, and all those who spoke, including former Leader of the Council Cllr George Alexander, expressed regret at even having to consider the proposals.
While many across Moray will be relieved at having escaped the axe on this occasion, the parlous state of the Council finances remains a deep concern for all. The deepest sighs of relief are likely to come by groups like anti-poverty campaigners and action group Moray Foodbank, who found themselves on the list of charities operating shops and were only spared when Councillors pointed out they were not operating those as retail outlets.
Due to the lack of consultations ahead of the debate, nobody knows what the impact of the cuts will be on the viability of the shops affected. It can only be hoped that they will all be able to either apply for other forms of rate relief, such as the Small Business Bonus Scheme, or shoulder the additional costs.
Charity shops make a huge contribution to the social fabric of Moray by:
- helping to maintain vibrancy to our High Streets and Main Streets
- diverting second hand goods from waste streams otherwise potentially heading for landfill
- making those goods available to many who might otherwise struggle to meet all their needs
- providing local employment and volunteering opportunities for many people who might otherwise struggle to engage in the social and economic life of Moray
- raising funds for good causes across and beyond Moray.
InsideMORAY wishes them well; we hope they will all be able to survive this additional challenge and continue to thrive long into the future.