Moray Conservatives demand apology over figures, as SNP MSP accuses them of 'staggering hypocrisy'
SNP MSP Richard Lochhead has accused local Tories of "staggering hypocrisy" after they demanded he apologise for "failing to stand up for Moray" after the full extent of council’s budget cuts were exposed this week.
A newspaper revealed that Moray Council, which derives 80% of its budget from the Scottish Government, has had to slash spending on education, culture, roads and transport over the last 10 years.
Jamie Halcro Johnston, Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, pointed out that the period coincides with Mr Lochhead’s tenure as MSP for Moray, during most of which he was a senior minister under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.
Mr Halcro Johnston said: “It is disgraceful that, during a period when the council has had to reduce spending on education by nearly 20% - more than the national average, Richard Lochhead was content to blame the council for the consequences.
“In fact, these cuts are entirely due to the Scottish Government he was, and is again, a senior figure in and their unfair treatment of Moray and other councils in the north of Scotland.
“In all his years in the corridors of power, Richard Lochhead appears to have done nothing to fight for Moray as his colleagues systematically slashed local budgets. Local people must be asking 'where was he?' and 'what was he doing?' He certainly wasn’t standing up for Moray.”
Councillor Tim Eagle, leader of the Scottish Conservative Group on Moray Council, added: “For years as successive council administrations struggled to balance the books, SNP councillors were happy to toe the central party line and refuse to put pressure on their SNP colleagues in Holyrood.
“Now that they are in administration they are having to make the cuts themselves. A sign of how ludicrous they are is that in opposition they campaigned against reductions in school crossing patrols - and now they are cutting the entire service.
“It is ironic that the council chamber will shortly be empty of its SNP councillors as they troop off to the SNP conference to cheer on Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum.
“Maybe if they spent a bit more time on the day job – protecting our services – Moray Council would not be in the difficult situation it finds itself in.”
Mr Lochhead hit back: “This is staggering hypocrisy from the Tories, especially Jamie Halcro Johnston who voted in the Scottish Parliament for less public spending and whose colleague, Douglas Ross MP, voted for a 28% cut in local government funding. In the Scottish Parliament all the Conservatives voted against the additional £3.2million for Moray in the Budget vote because they wanted tax cuts and less public spending.
“These Tories should be the ones apologising - and not only that but for wasting billions on Brexit and the misery heaped on Moray families through welfare reform and austerity.
"For example, it has been calculated that the welfare changes alone will cost Moray households a total of around £13m per annum by 2020-21. Sadly, that’ll have a big impact locally.
"It is no coincidence that the 10-year period they refer to mirrors when the Tories came to power in 2010 and imposed a decade of austerity and budget cuts. Over that time the Scottish budget has been left with a real terms cut of £2billion which is 7% of the Scottish budget.
“In Moray, the Tories were part of the council administration for 10 years and walked away nine months ago after they fell out with everyone and failed to take the big decisions that have led us to where we are today, as highlighted by Audit Scotland."
The figures published on Thursday April 25 show cuts in the last decade in real terms net revenue expenditure in Moray exceeding the national average; at -19% as opposed to -17% nationally in education; -40% as opposed to -28% nationally in culture; and -42% as opposed to -26% nationally in roads and transport spending.