Published: 17/09/2017 07:32 - Updated: 15/09/2017 15:53

New council push to curb spending

Councillor Graham LeadbitterNO "slash and burn" approach will be adopted to tackle Moray Council’s cash troubles. 

An update on the local authority’s Conservative/Independent administration’s plan to deal with the problem was requested at Wednesday’s meeting of the audit and scrutiny committee. 

If spending is not curtailed, there will be no money left in the council’s coffers by the end of March 2019. 

At the moment, it was reported, there is around £21.71 million in reserves of which almost £8 million is already committed. 

An Audit Scotland report before members highlighted that the current level of service provision was not sustainable and there was a risk the local authority would not be able to make changes before their savings ran out. 

SNP councillor for Elgin, South Graham Leadbitter, said: "Usually the financial situation is identified as the first risk in the corporate risk register of the council – along with political leadership and strategy – so it’s obviously a key risk and one of the biggest risks the council has so it would be good to get an update on that." 

Frank Brown, Conservative councillor for Elgin North, said the administration had been working with the corporate management team since the end of May to deal with the situation. 

He added: "We’re looking at the difficulties the council is facing, has faced and will continue to face with bringing about a balanced budget, bearing in mind there is no guarantees that future funding from the Scottish government will not diminish further making the task even harder. 

"It is a difficult job. 

"The exercise we’re undertaking is to identify the administration’s and council’s priorities, in order that the funds that are available to the council over the next two-year period will meet these priorities and at the moment that’s where we’re at. 

"There will be reports coming to the full council about the progress we’re making and indeed some of the elements that some difficult decisions are going to be made on. 

"It will be a process spread over 18 months as opposed to a slash and burn model, which has been suggested the last administration’s approach to things." 

A newly formed corporate plan steering group has been established to address the council’s financial position. 

It is made up of members of the administration and chaired by council leader and Independent member for Forres, George Alexander. 

The report also highlighted that invoice payments could have been made for goods that the council had not received. 

Donald Gatt, Conservative councillor for Keith and Cullen said: "We’re dealing with public money here so all goods and services should be accounted for before invoices are paid. 

"It seems to me to be a relatively simple process. If goods are received they’re checked off against the packing note, that is then reconciled against the original order which is reconciled against the invoice, then payment should be made. 

"For this to be going on in my personal opinion it’s not acceptable."

He added that if he had acted in a similar way in his previous job he would have "surly faced disciplinary action and almost certain dismissal". 

Roddy Burns, chief executive of Moray Council, assured Cllr Gatt that nothing untoward was going on and his comments had been "entirely inappropriate." 

A report will come back to committee on department processes used to monitor payments for goods.

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