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Moray Council agrees tax freeze as budget unveiled to aid coronavirus recovery

Graham Leadbitter,
Graham Leadbitter,

Moray Council has agreed to freeze council tax for the next year in hopes of easing pressure on struggling families amidst the pandemic.

The local authority has accepted Scottish Government’s offer of £1.48m which is the equivalent of around a 3% increase for councils that decide to freeze council tax.

Yesterday, councillors agreed the budget to invest more than £38million to improve roads, schools, bridges, parks and open spaces to aid recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

This forms part of the 10-year plan to invest £482.4m to support growth across the region.

Moray Council leader calls for no ‘complacency’ in setting budget amidst pandemic financial storm

Tax freeze

Council leader Graham Leadbitter has called for the local authority to have “no complacency” moving forward despite improvements in finances.

In December, the council revealed a £9m surplus for 2019/20 – compared with a £19.5m deficit the previous year.

Mr Leadbitter said: “We are no longer in an at risk section of councils but we can’t be financially complacent.

“Given the pressures on families in Moray and right across the country this additional funding for council tax freeze is extremely welcomed and I hope it offers some relief for Moray households plus the additional money will help key services.

“We must not underestimate the impact of the pandemic on households with many people still on furlough, others made redundant and others with jobs at risk in the coming months.

“The budget approved is a budget for recovery – economic recovery, green recovery, social recovery and education recovery.”

Cautious approach

Chief financial officer, Lorraine Paisey has cautioned councillors that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to have a knock-on effect for some time with projected savings required of £4m in 2022/23 and £4.2m in 2023/24.

Forres councillor George Alexander.

Independent councillor George Alexander added: “There will so much work to do which will require huge investment and we need to make sure we don’t get into a false sense of security.”

Budget outlined

Foths Burn Bridge

Work to repair Foths Bridge near Birnie has been brought forward as result of additional costs of extra bus cover being required for school transport.

Around £170,000 is be invested into tourism infrastructure to prepare for this summer’s anticipated influx of staycationers.

In the Capital Programme, £4.3m has been earmarked for roads, £9m will go towards school refurbishments and new builds; £10m on waste management, including contributions to the flagship Energy from Waste plant; £3.4m on economic development and £585,000 will provide play park upgrades and cemetery expansions in the parks and open spaces service.

Delight over plans for Forres 4G football pitch

Forres councillor Aaron McLean has welcomed plans to develop an all weather pitch in his ward.

Mr McLean added: “It has taken a bit of time and it is so important for the academy and young people in Forres to get that pitch.

“Over the years I have seen teams in the Forres area having to go down to Aviemore and Aberlour to use facilities and it is great preparation work will start next year.

“It is the only area in Moray that doesn’t have an artificial pitch.”

The extra spending sits alongside £2.5m of savings identified in the budget.
Some savings are temporary, none are said to require any redundancies.

Meanwhile, Conservative councillors saw their amendment to invest more heavily in roads maintenance following rising complaints to the council and proposal to create a new athletics track rejected.

Councillors voted by 15 to 11 in favour of the administration group’s budget, ahead of the Tories’ alternative.