Hopes have been raised that endless cash crises at Moray Council could soon be at an end following a breakthrough in national talks after years of campaigning.
The authority has cut £53 million from services in the last decade in a relentless battle to balance the books.
The current administration and previous ruling groups have pinned the blame on fears the region was being disproportionately disadvantaged with a cash allocation that makes it the least funded rural area of Scotland per head of population.
Now it has been revealed that Cosla, the umbrella group that represents Scottish councils, has agreed to review the funding formula used to share out money from central government.
Council leader Graham Leadbitter hailed the development as a breakthrough but warned it make take a further year before a new agreement is made.
He said: “It shouldn’t be underestimated how long this will take, it’s a very complex formula and Cosla will likely require external consultants due to the current workload on its own staff.
“The formula hasn’t been reviewed in a considerable period of time so there are a lot of factors particular to Moray that aren’t taken account of which we would like to see to get more leverage than the current formula.”
Mr Leadbitter highlighted the impact of whisky haulage on remote roads to distilleries, the lack of contributions from military housing developments to local infrastructure compared to private projects and a large number of school pupils with additional support needs (ASN) as issues unique to Moray that are not currently examined as part of funding grants.
Tim Eagle, leader of the council’s Conservative group, said: “There are many spending commitments being made during the election campaigns about the NHS and other things but nobody is talking about councils.
“This is the time to get out there to say that councils need more money to deliver the basic services that communities need.”
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that delays caused by next month’s General Election may mean that Moray Council’s own budget, which is usually set in February, may not be finalised until March.
About £800,000 worth of savings were tabled at yesterday’s full council meeting to be finalised including an increase to garden bin fees, a rise in burial charges and a reduction in street light maintenance.
However, a decision about taking them was delayed amid fears that political campaigning for the General Election may influence the debate within the chambers.
Legal officers warned councillors ahead of the talks about using council funds as part of a way to influence voters ahead of the poll.
Independent Speyside Glenlivet councillor Derek Ross, who proposed the delay, said: “We live in a changing environment at the moment and we don’t know what extra monies will be available from national governments.
“We don’t know at the moment if the funding situation will improve which will allow us to alleviate some of the cuts. If we debate it now then it will just turn into a political debate.”
Councillors voted by 12 to 11 with one abstention to delay debating the financial planning item on yesterday’s agenda.
A Cosla spokesman said: “This will look to ensure sustainable funding for local government framed within the context of our fiscal empowerment and inclusive growth priorities.
“Any detailed review of distribution would only follow once this work is completed recognising the revised context in which distribution could be considered.”