PEOPLE in Moray have been warned to expect "very painful" cuts, as the perilous state of the local authority’s finances was brought into focus this week.
Moray Council released a 16-page document on Tuesday, highlighting £6.7 million in savings for next year and a warning that worse could come in 2019/20.
Reducing bin collections, closing village and town halls, shutting public toilets and providing schools with less money are just some of the proposals that will now go out for public consultation.
The council held a special meeting on Monday to discuss next year’s budget, and the proposals made by the council’s Conservative/Independent administration were then released to the public the following morning.
Council leader George Alexander, an independent councillor for Forres, admitted the proposed cuts would be "very painful".
He said: "All councils right across Scotland are going to have to change the way they work. If someone decides we can’t possibly do one thing, then they have to tell us what is to be done instead."
"Any new option we have though must be fully costed and has to be set against our legal responsibilities, but we will look at all this as we go through the next few months."
Also commenting, Donald Gatt, Conservative councillor for Keith and Cullen, said: "I don’t want to have to make any cuts. We want to be looking at maintaining our service level and working on a long-term strategic plan for Moray that will help us turn a corner and attain our priorities such as improving economic development and aiming for excellence in our schools.
"Planning for this is hard. We only receive a one year settlement from the Scottish Government and we are yet again expecting this to drop by several million pounds."
In response, the SNP’s co-leader, Graham Leadbitter, said: "Over the last few years the SNP opposition in Moray Council has proposed a variety of significant cost saving measures. It is good that at least some of those long overdue measures are now in the Tory/Independent budget proposals.
"There are a large number of proposals in the council administration’s budget plans and while we have concerns about some of the proposals, we accept that the Tory and Independent administration have a democratic right to consult on their budget.
"The SNP is continuing to hold budget meetings with council officers and we will scrutinise the administration’s proposals line by line in the coming weeks in the run up to February’s budget meeting."
The SNP’s other co-leader, Shona Morrison, added: "We would urge people to make their feelings known about the Tory/Independent proposals through the consultation and we will be looking at the responses very carefully.
"We are also keen to hear from folk directly with comments and ideas.
"While we recognise the administration’s right to consult we are very concerned about the short consultation period and the fact that the main platform for the consultation is Facebook.
"This is not helpful in hearing the views of some our most vulnerable groups who have limited or no internet access."
Much more on this story, including a full list of the proposed cuts, in this week's Northern Scot print edition.