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‘It’s been an honour and a privilege’: Former Moray Council leader George Alexander prepares to call it a day after a turbulent decade in local politics

Councillor George Alexander in Forres High Street.
Picture by Gordon Lennox
Councillor George Alexander in Forres High Street. Picture by Gordon Lennox

A reluctant former leader of Moray Council is calling on people to get out and vote in the local government elections in May.

George Alexander has represented the Forres ward as an independent for the last 10 years, serving two terms.

But at the age of 72 the keen cyclist who needs two hip replacements feels it is time to step down.

First elected in 2012, Mr Alexander became leader of the council following the ballot in 2017 when nine SNP, eight Conservatives, eight independents and one Labour councillor were elected.

But with one independent councillor resigning within days of the ballot and neither of the parties with the most members managing to form an administration, Mr Alexander felt he had to take the reins.

A bumpy coalition

He said: “I had no wish to be leader, but after two weeks and Moray being the only council in Scotland not forming an administration, I felt it was time to break the logjam.

“I approached the SNP and the Tories, but I’d no particular enthusiasm to join any.”

However, the SNP stipulated they would only form an administration with the independents if there were no compulsory redundancies.

While not wanting people to lose their jobs, Mr Alexander felt, considering the state of the council finances, it was something that could not be agreed.

So he and five other independents formed an alliance “somewhat reluctantly” with the Conservatives.

That coalition lasted for about a year before the Tories left. Since then a minority SNP administration has been in place.

Mr Alexander is encouraging voters to find out more about the candidates standing in the council elections, and to get behind those who have an interest in their community.

‘There’s some very good people in Moray Council, I just hope there’s more in the next one’

He said: “The local council impacts your day-to-day life to a far greater extent than any other government, so it’s disappointing when you see turnout down around 30%.

“I’d like to see folk who show an interest in their community, and not those scraped up by a political party to stand in this election.

“I know that the Tories and the SNP are trying to make sure they can put up two candidates in each ward.

“But there’s a responsibility for the voters to look behind the party talk and say ‘who are these people?’

“They are being paid £17,000 a year and all they have to do is attend a meeting every six month. I don’t know how we allow that to be the case. If you look at the attendance record of some councillors its atrocious.

Moray Council HQ.

“There’s some very good people in Moray Council, I just hope there’s more in the next one.”

His time in the coalition left him with some very striking memories.

To say things didn’t always go to plan would seem to be a bit of an understatement.

Councillor Alexander said: “Some of the Tories thought they were going to solve Moray Council’s problems by sacking some of the lead officers and re-advertising their jobs, but that would have resulted in huge claims against us.

“There was a massive misunderstanding on how the council works.

“In the last five years they have done more damage in their working relationship with officers than I’ve ever seen before.

“But of course we get the council we vote for, that’s how democracy works.”

Mr Alexander has criticised the Scottish Government for reducing funding given local authorities in real terms over the years, but he gave credit to the minority SNP administration currently in charge of the council.

He said: “I’ll give the SNP their due, they took on a hell of a challenge.

“I’ve found they have been much more responsible since they took over the administration, and are making the best of a very difficult job.”

Call to vote for folk who care about their communities

Originally from Aberdeenshire, Mr Alexander gained a BSc in agriculture and was manager of a pig farm in Inverness-shire before leasing a farm at Forres in 1979.

In the 1980s he embarked on a second career as a maths teacher, which saw him study with the Open University, and travelling in and out of Aberdeen daily to gain his PGCE.

He taught in Keith and Huntly before being offered a permanent job at Forres Academy, where he stayed for 22 years until he became a councillor.

Forres Heritage Trust chairman George Alexander (centre) is pictured with eight other trustees during renovations of Forres tollbooth clocktower.

Mr Alexander said: “I stood for election because I knew things were really going bad in education in Moray, and I though I’d be able to do something.

“In Moray we’re still in the position where we have primary schools within walking distance of each other that are both well below capacity.”

“I wonder if I’d have done more good staying as a teacher.”

One of his successes as a councillor was during his time as chairman of the flood alleviation sub committee,

While the schemes at Lhanbryde, Elgin and Rothes were completed or well underway, the two at Forres – the Mosset Burn and the River Findhorn and Pilmuir – were still in their infancy, and were seen to fruition under his stewardship.

Future plans

When he retires Mr Alexander will continue in his role as chairman of Forres Heritage Trust.

The group is preparing to open the town’s refurbished tollbooth to the public in April.

He is also involved with the Forres Community Activities Association that is looking to organise an event to coincide the the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

There are also plans to mark the 100th anniversary of Grant Park in two years time.

Mr Alexander will also spend more time with his wife Kathleen, five children and 10 grand-children.

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