The leader of Moray Council has called for “no complacency” when it comes to setting the budget amidst the pandemic’s devastating financial storm.
Graham Leadbitter has warned the local authority needs to be “really careful” about choosing what services to invest in in efforts to aid the region’s social and economic recovery.
This comes after months of plummeting income from council services, council tax and cash being diverted to tackle pandemic woes which has resulted in the council’s coronavirus bill totalling almost £7.8 million.
Despite these uncertain times, financial officers have worked to find savings across the board which has led to reports of the authority’s finances “being in the best position for years”.
In the past, the local authority has faced fears of bankruptcy, however a £30m improvement in the council’s finances has seen praise from Audit Scotland.
In December, the council revealed a £9m surplus for 2019/20 – compared with a £19.5m deficit the previous year.
It will remain unknown what Moray Council will receive as their funding allowance from the Scottish Government’s formula for funding local authorities until later this month.
Previous cuts put council in ‘better financial position’
However officials have admitted previous budgets cuts totalling £12.6m, which included the controversial axing of school crossing patrollers, have put the council in a “better financial position” to deal with the struggles ahead.
Mr Leadbitter said: “Covid has presented a huge number of challenges not just from public health but for public sector budgets and the impact will be felt for years to come.
“Looking ahead to our budget setting in Moray, to a certain extent we are fortunate that we have already had to take some difficult decisions and that means the council’s finances are in a healthier position than might otherwise be the case.
“There is still a huge amount of uncertainty over funding and we can’t be complacent about that and need to think really careful about the services that we want to invest in.
“Especially looking at what will have the best impact in terms of social and economic recovery from the pandemic.”
Moray Tory group leader Tim Eagle has cautioned the public that services still face a battle for cash from the council’s budget.
He said: “I feel a bit more positive about the budget but the fight will be about what to spend moveable cash on which will be the political battle this year.
“The Tory group will probably support roads maintenance as it has barely been supported over the last 10 years and the argument will be if we don’t support them we may see roads falling apart.
“We still need to make £1.3m worth of savings but our reserves have significantly jumped.
“This position is not down to a masterstroke from the SNP.
“All the credit goes to the council finance team who have been working tirelessly to find savings from anywhere they could.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty over what funding allowance we will receive from the Scottish Government which has been dire for many years.”