A fresh row broke out over the future of closure-threatened town halls in Moray yesterday after an MSP suggested the local authority might be “falling short” of a law.
Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson claimed in Holyrood that Moray Council was “very reluctant to provide adequate support” to groups seeking to take over the facilities.
And he suggested the authority may be breaching the spirit of the Community Empowerment Act, which makes it easier for local groups to take control of land and buildings in public ownership through asset transfers.
But the council’s leader George Alexander said he was “baffled” by the remarks.
Town halls in Elgin, Forres, Findochty and Cullen, as well as the Longmore Hall in Keith and the Fisherman’s Hall in Buckie, are due to close at the end of June unless locals can take them on.
Community centres in Cullen and Dufftown have also been included as part of the process, which were included in budget savings to cut costs by £188,000.
In Holyrood yesterday, Mr Stevenson said the council’s actions “appear to fall short of the intention” of the Community Empowerment Act.
Speaking afterwards, the SNP MSP said: “I have been contacted by local groups who have been told they will not receive help from the council under the current arrangements.”
However, Mr Alexander said: “I am at a loss as to why Mr Stevenson should make such claims, given that I have written to him just last week explaining that Moray Council will support any viable group seeking a transfer.
“We are currently supporting 10 groups seeking a transfer and that’s a challenge, but we’ll be holding a seminar in Elgin next week to help others start the process.
“Moray Council is very keen to encourage and support communities to take control of their local halls.”
The Press and Journal understands that the local authority is investigating ways to extend the deadline if viable groups come forward.
Last night, a spokesman for Cullen and Deskford Community Council said: “At this moment time we are more than happy with the support given by Moray Council staff.
“However our main concern is the very short time scale that is on offer to get everything in place and this in itself will put pressure on the Community Asset Transfers team at Moray Council due to the amount of Community Asset Transfers in the pipeline as the result of the recent budget cuts.”