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First wave of Moray Council budget cuts to be tabled to try and plug expected £9.5million funding gap

Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter.
Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter.

The first wave of Moray Council’s cuts to plug an expected £9.5million budget black hole next year have been tabled amid warnings a “radical change in thinking” is needed.

Increasing garden bin collection fees to £40, a 5% rise in burial fees and less street light maintenance will all be discussed by councillors this week.

Financial projections have estimated that the proposed measures are likely to save £804,000 – less than 10% of the total needed to balance the books.

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about a lack of certainty in the budget-setting process due to the council and Scottish Government awaiting cash plans from Westminster, which will be settled following next month’s general election.

Council leader Graham Leadbitter said finding savings has been a “continuous process” and stressed a new approach would be taken to reduce costs.

He said: “As an administration we took a conscious decision to look at savings through the year, rather than a set-piece budget in February.

“Last year was a particularly hard budget challenge but this year the focus is much more on transforming and modernising services to find efficiencies while conducting a root-and-branch review of our key services.”

Moray Council has already made £53million worth of savings during the last decade – a process that has caused deputy chief executive Rhona Gunn to warn of “diminishing returns” in the process while urging for more focus to be on increasing income.

Other savings being tabled on Wednesday include reducing the number of council entries in the BT phone book – a process expected to save about £16,000 – removing a housing information officer post that is currently vacant and merging the traffic and transport teams.

In a report, Mrs Gunn warned that residents may be asked to assume further duties having already taken the management of town halls and some public toilets as part of savings yet to be identified.

She said: “A dialogue will also continue with local communities around areas where they may have capacity to assist if services are reduced or stopped, such as has been the case with grass cutting and public conveniences.

“Ultimately however, a radical change in thinking will be required and services which are not otherwise protected may require to be further tailored, targeted and stopped in order to control costs.”

Former council leader George Alexander, who now leads an independent group in the chambers, fears delays due to the Westminster election could cause complications.

He said: “We always just assume we’re going to get the same money as the previous year.

“At the moment we just have to wait and see. It may mean that some of the cuts don’t get made. We don’t know how long it will take for Westminster to sort itself out, then the Scottish Government needs time too, everything is going to be delayed.”

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