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Conservative take-over of Moray Council rejected following stormy two-hour debate

Moray Council's Conservative group leader Tim Eagle.
Moray Council's Conservative group leader Tim Eagle.

A take-over of Moray Council by Conservatives has been binned after a divisive overhaul of the authority was rejected.

Opposition Tory councillors had proposed scrapping existing decision-making committees in favour of a single executive cabinet as part of a leadership bid.

Yesterday the new system was rejected following two hours of stormy discussions, which included accusations of councillors using “profanity” in contributions and repeated reminders for members to respect each other.

However, despite the vote only being on the cabinet model, the Conservatives have accepted the result also ends their current leadership aspirations.

Damning report highlights ‘significant decline’ of education and other Moray Council services in past five years

Group leader Tim Eagle explained the proposals were not driven by political aspirations but were aimed at addressing concerns raised in a damning Accounts Commission report, which warned services had “significantly declined” over the last five years.

He said: “My group, and the independent councillors who shared this similar vision, are very much driven by the recent report, not just the recent report but those preceding it.

“They clearly highlighted the need for much greater strategic leadership within the council to drive much needed policies forwards and the changes required to bring the council into the 21st century in its governance model.

“This was not a power grab or a political ploy but a very real desire to see the council move forwards with the very difficult choices which lay ahead.”

Moray Council is currently running projects to review its leisure services and school estate as part of ambitious proposals to save money amid bleak financial projections.

The nine-strong Conservative group is now the largest in the chambers following the resignation of now-independent Amy Taylor from the SNP group.

Senior officials warned that implementing the cabinet system would take “two to three months” at a time budget proposals were being drawn up alongside the Covid-19 response.

Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter. Picture by Jason Hedges.

Council leader Graham Leadbitter, co-leader of the SNP group, explained he had “no problem” to debate who should lead the council but warned the additional workload of implementing the cabinet model risked distracting staff.

He said: “I think the big problem is that it would put us in a holding pattern in the middle of a public health crisis with potentially a no-deal Brexit on the way.

“These are some of the most uncertain times the council has ever had to face.”

The nine Conservatives and independent councillors Derek Ross and Walter Wilson backed the cabinet system, Ms Taylor abstained, the remaining 13 members opposed the proposal.

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