PUBLIC transport, housing and health care are top of the agenda for voters in the Elgin North by-election next week.
The ballot was called after Independent councillor Sandy Cooper, who was elected following the local government poll on May 4, handed in his resignation on the morning of Wednesday, May 10, saying the job "wasn’t for me."
Holding the by-election is expected to cost Moray Council £25,000.
During the local government campaign, the Labour Party made an official complaint against Mr Cooper, who said in his election literature he had never been a member of a political party, although he stood twice unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in council ballots in the mid 1990s.
There were also concerns over Mr Cooper’s pledge that he would donate £1000 from his councillor salary to each of the schools in the Elgin North ward if elected.
Four candidates are standing in the by-election next Thursday.
SNP candidate Patsy Gowans, who lives in the ward, was previously one of the three members for Elgin North, but was not re-elected on the May 4 vote.
She said: "Across the ward people are annoyed that a councillor resigned a few days into the job wasting public money. Voting for me means reliability."
Mrs Gowans added: "People are upset about public transport – I was already fighting for innovative solutions, like a council-run service long before the populist Douglas Ross (Conservative Moray MP) jumped onto the bandwagon.
"Housing is a big issue – young families struggling in expensive, overcrowded, private lets. Although the Tories did well last time, people see them as a shambles now.
"The bribe to the DUP that Mr Ross supported hasn’t gone down well here. People want money spent where it matters, not on administrators.
"They expect councillors to work hard, unlike our absent Tory councillors. It was 12-hour days for me. Elgin South’s Tory Ray McLean works overseas half the year." She added: "I’m standing on my track record of supporting people in public and behind the scenes, and putting my council work first. After Sandy Cooper, another unknown Tory is not what Elgin needs."
Conservative candidate Maria McLean, who is married to Elgin South councillor Ray MacLean, moved to Moray seven years ago.
Originally from Tomsk in Russia, she has a degree in economics and a background in management, both of which she believes would help her if elected.
She said: "On the doorsteps, there are a lot of people complaining about the bus services, and drivers speeding in the streets, including Pluscarden Road.
"I would like to work with all interested parties to attract investment to Moray tot help grow our economy.
Mrs McLean added: "I moved to Moray seven years ago and fell in love with the area. To be elected to the council would mean I can give something back to the community of Elgin. If I’m successful I will be a full-time councillor, and I will work to address the issues for the whole of Elgin."
Mrs McLean said if she were to be voted in, she and husband Ray would be in strong position where they could support each other.
She added her main priorities would be health care and economic development.
Mrs McLean said: "I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge awaiting the successful candidate but feel that I am the right woman for the job."
Terry Monaghan, who lives at Mundole, near Forres, is standing as an Independent in the by-election. He said the issues facing voters in Elgin North were the same as those impacting on Moray generally.
"Considering the low pay level which councillors are paid, unless one is voted into a chairmanship by one’s peers when it can double, only people who have a "low-pay expectancy" because they have lower qualifications and experience, are standing for election," Mr Monaghan added.
"Having a degree does not mean one would be a good councillor. There are no degrees for experience of life, guts, determination, imagination, and understanding of personal problems."
He said: "I am fighting my corner as an Independent with a wide experience of life and training in a broad range of fields both in the UK and abroad.
"I am like David fighting the three Goliaths of the SNP with a team delivering their leaflets, Labour have done it with postal delivery and the Conservatives are obviously using their party machine.
"I am pounding the streets distributing my manifesto because I believe that the people of Moray should have a candidate who cares and will do his utmost to try to get a much better service from the Moray Council."
Nick Taylor, Labour’s candidate in the by-election said his party had been re-energised following the general election.
He added: "Our share of the vote increased across the country, including here in Moray. We’re running an energetic campaign with a large team of activists, many of whom are campaigning for the first time.
"The SNP in Moray have proved to be a busted flush, while the Tory candidate is invisible.
"More and more voters are turning to Labour to provide the real alternative to the austerity policies of the Tories in Westminster and the SNP in Edinburgh.
"The new council administration is determined to cut jobs and local services. This by-election presents an opportunity to force the Tory-led council to change direction.
He added: "Throughout this campaign, and the last, the same two issues came up on the doorstep: inadequate health care provision for the north of Elgin, and poor public transport. Older residents, in particular, struggle to travel all the way to Glassgreen for basic health care. I’m campaigning for a new health centre for Bishopmill as a matter of urgency, as well as for the restoration and improvement of bus services around Elgin. People are sick of the endless austerity in our public services."