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Audit Scotland report says Moray Council’s pandemic recovery is being hampered by ‘poor working relationships’

Conservative group leader Tim Eagle (left) and Moray council leader Graham Leadbitter (right) have reacted to a warning from Audit Scotland's Tim McKay (centre).
Conservative group leader Tim Eagle (left) and council leader Graham Leadbitter (right) have reacted to a warning from Audit Scotland's Tim McKay (centre).

In-fighting between Moray councillors is slowing down the local authority’s pandemic recovery, auditors have said.

Audit Scotland has published a report about the authority, which says despite council officers and members working well in response to the pandemic, some working relationships between members have deteriorated again.

It was stressed that the continuing lack of agreement on how tensions and poor working relationships can be addressed is “not acceptable”.

In 2020, auditors concluded that Moray Council services had “declined significantly” over the last five years.

Hopes change in councillors could provide reset

Tim McKay, interim deputy chairman of the Accounts Commission, said: “The council is trying to implement its improvement plan and also trying to improve its services and solve its budget problems.

“The poor relationships between councillors has been slowing down that.

“The in-fighting is generally between political parties.

“You accept political differences in any council but at the end of the day, councillors from different parties need to work together for the benefit of the area.

“Hopefully the new people being elected will give them an opportunity to reset things and hopefully create a positive atmosphere.”

Disagreement over report

Conservative group leader Tim Eagle said: “A part of this is modern politics and I have seen this comment in other council reports.

“Scotland has a quite significant divide due to the independence debate and 90% of council decisions have been mutually agreed.

“I don’t think working relationships between councillors and officials are as bad as some people think.”

Tim Eagle

“I think this is an Edinburgh-based organisation trying to tell a rural community what to do.

“Which is frankly unacceptable.

“I disagree with this report and my feeling is Audit Scotland is trying to force councillors to make decisions that we don’t want to make.

“I don’t think working relationships between councillors and officials are as bad as some people think.

“There are difficulties between councillors where there is some wind-ups but it isn’t that bad.”

Graham Leadbitter, leader of Moray Council
Graham Leadbitter, leader of Moray Council

Despite concerns over relationships between councillors and officials, auditors continued to praise the council’s efforts to increase money set aside for unexpected costs, reprioritising transformation projects and improving how it understands and manages performance.

Council leader Graham Leadbitter said: “Overall, the report shows a positive direction of travel for the council.

“However, it is fair to say that some relationships between councillors and councillors and officers have been strained.

“While it is important to have a robust challenging debate, it needs to be done in a respectful manner.”

Warning has been issued to bickering councillors before

It’s not the first time questions have been raised about councillors’ behaviour in Moray.

Head of governance, strategy and performance Alasdair McEachan warned them to behave in August 2020 after stating he was spending an “increased amount” of time sorting out squabbles between them.

The official categorised the complaints as:

  • councillors showing a lack of respect for each other
  • councillors showing a lack of respect for officers
  • language used on social media
  • inappropriate use of council facilities.

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