Moray Council has ruled out reversing controversial grass cutting reductions amid fears financial pressures could get even tougher.
Communities across the region rallied to tend to their open spaces after becoming dismayed at the sight of their parks being rendered unusable with greenery up to waist-height in some places.
Today the council’s opposition Conservative group proposed reinstating the service to allow volunteers to focus on running groups to support children and pensioners instead – explaining the full implication of the move was not understood.
However, councillors voted against reintroducing the £45,000 cost, which was made as part of budget savings to plug a £10million black hole, due to fears it would make next year’s finances even harder to balance.
Conservative group leader Tim Eagle branded the move a “disgrace” while adding that reinstating grass cutting would show that Moray was “open for business”.
He said: “While the decision not to cut grass in public areas was revised in May to allow grass around housing estates to be cut, we found that approach was inconsistent.
“This coupled with children not being able to access open spaces for sports, elderly residents not being able to sit on favoured benches and concerns over the direct impact this would have on tourism, led us to continue the fight for it to be reversed.”
A petition organised by Moray MP Douglas Ross generated nearly 5,000 signatures from locals urging the original decision to be reviewed.
Council leader Graham Leadbitter praised the response from communities to tend to parks but stressed tight finances meant other services needed to be prioritised.
He said: “At the moment we still have a significant budget deficit. We made a large dent in it last year but there’s still a further significant work to be done to get the finances to a more sustainable place.
“This is a reasonably chunky amount of money and the issues we are going to be dealing with over the coming months are going to be very challenging.
“If we put that money back in now then we are simply making what is already a difficult task even more sizeable.”
Grass cutting has been reinstated in some parks in Elgin and Buckie following funding pledges from the towns’ respective common good funds.
However, Conservative councillors stressed that some communities did not have access to similar pots to pay for their parks to be covered.
George Alexander, leader of the Councillors Open Group alliance of independent members, described a lack of understanding of the implications of ceasing grass cutting as a “hellish indictment on the intelligence of councillors”.
He added: “We don’t know what’s coming over the next couple of months so we can’t afford to reinstate this, set it aside and say we’re not touching it in next year’s budget.
“My understanding is that there could be lines in the budget that could reduce even further the amount of grass that we’re currently cutting.”
Councillors voted by 11 to eight to maintain the current grass cutting arrangements.