Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter calls on three Tories to resign
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The leader of Moray Council has called on three Conservative councillors to resign as they no longer live in the area.
Several elected members expressed deep unhappiness during an online debate yesterday that the three were voting on issues which no longer directly affect them.
Husband and wife Ray McLean (Elgin South, Conservative) and Maria McLean (Elgin North, Conservative) left Moray to set up home in Edinburgh last week.
Meanwhile, Frank Brown (Elgin North, Conservative) has resided in Aboyne for nearly two years.
Graham Leadbitter (Elgin South, SNP) has now called on all three to resign immediately from the council, likening them to "absentee landlords".
However, he himself has been accused, in turn, of having a "very selective memory".
Cllr Leadbitter said: "The Tory group leader admitted under questioning that a third of his council group now no longer live in Moray.
"That raises questions about their accountability when they want to decide a budget for an area they have left and can no longer stand for election in.
"Quite frankly all three absent Tories must resign in light of this revelation.
"It cannot be right that a third of the main opposition group can leave the region but still vote on how £300million of public funds is spent here in Moray like absentee landlords."
The call for the three councillors to resign comes a day after the minority SNP administration narrowly survived a bid to oust it ahead of the next elections in May.
With the vote tied 12 all, with one councillor abstaining, a deck of cards was then employed to decide who should have control of the council.
Cllr Leadbitter continued: “This was an incredibly disruptive move by the Tories in Moray slowing progress in critical budget work and causing upheaval at a time when the council’s management and frontline staff are right at the front of the battle against the latest wave of Covid.
"We are very grateful for the backing of four Independents and a Labour councillor to ensure that the council retains stability.
"We are literally weeks away from the final Council meeting in just over three months’ time ahead of the election in May.
"It is just farcical that the Tories wanted to take on administration in those circumstances and I believe many people across Moray will take a very dim view of that.
"In the meantime we look forward to working with those councillors who are willing to get round the table to hammer out a budget for the coming year, including those who supported us yesterday and others."
Councillors must live in the region when a local election takes place.
There are no rules preventing them from moving away afterwards.
Replying to his critics, Cllr Brown accused them of having a "very selective memory".
He pointed to the fact that Cllr Leadbitter's immediate predecessor as the leader of the SNP group lived outwith Moray for almost a year during 2016, and during that time had claimed mileage payments to attend council meetings.
The retired social worker added: "I moved to Aboyne for family reasons and only live 20 miles from the Moray border.
"I have worked assiduously for my constituents throughout and I will continue to do so until I stand down at the next local elections.
"Cllr Leadbitter has known for months that I no longer stay in Moray.
"You have to wonder why he's only decided to make an issue of it now?
"Is it to try to deflect from the chaos of his administration?"
Cllr Ray McLean stated that both he and his wife also intended to continue until May when they too would stand down.
He said: "We made the decision to leave Moray for family reasons.
"While we accept the timing is not ideal we would like to assure residents in both the Elgin North and South wards that we’re both fully capable of carrying out our duties for the remainder of our terms.
"It's ridiculous to question my commitment to Moray.
"I was born here, raised here, and have lived all of my 40 years in the area.
"I will always think of Moray as my home, and I’ll always care deeply for it."
Cllr Ray McLean continued: "We didn’t choose the current remote model for council meetings, but as long as it lasts I am confident in our ability to fully represent our wards.
"We would re-appraise the situation should in-person meetings resume, but for now we see absolutely no reason to resign."
How all 25 councillors voted yesterday:
For the motion to change the administration:
Tim Eagle (Buckie, Conservative)
James Allen (Heldon Laich, Conservative)
Derek Ross (Speyside/Glenlivet, Independent)
Walter Wilson (Speyside/Glenlivet, Independent)
Frank Brown (Elgin North, Conservative)
Ray McLean (Elgin North, Conservative)
Maria McLean (Elgin North, Conservative)
Donald Gatt (Keith and Cullen, Conservative)
Laura Powell (Keith and Cullen, Conservative)
Clare Feaver (Forres, Conservative)
Marc Macrae (Fochabers/Lhanbryde, Conservative)
Ryan Edwards (Heldon and Laich (Independent
Against the motion and to keep the status quo
Graham Leadbitter (Elgin South, SNP)
John Divers (Elgin South, Labour)
Shona Morrison (Fochabers/Lhanbryde, SNP)
Aaron McLean (Forres, SNP)
George Alexander (Forres, Independent)
Louise Nicol (Speyside/Glenlivet, SNP)
David Bremner (Fochabers/Lhanbryde, SNP)
Theresa Coull (Keith and Cullen, SNP)
John Cowe (Heldon and Laich, Independent)
Gordon Cowie (Buckie, Independent)
Lorna Creswell (Forres, Independent)
Sonya Warren (Buckie, SNP)
Amy Taylor (Heldon and Laich, Independent)