Councillor Allan Wright, the leader of the North east authority, said that the £7 million in budget cuts approved at a full meeting of the council were “but a start” and that “more radical proposals” for savings were being lined up by the administration.
He delivered his stark warning after councillors approved a raft of measures which will cut £7million from the budget for 2013-14. The cuts include the removal of £320,000 in support for subsidised bus services, the closure of seven libraries, the removal of support for arts development and a one-year reduction in roads maintenance.
Councillor Wight said that, in response to opposition from parents, the administration had reconsidered its proposals for major cuts in the provision of classroom assistants in schools. The original proposals would have left some schools with no classroom assistants but the revised proposals will result in all schools having a minimum of 12.5 hours of classroom assistant cover per week.
He said the budget savings decisions reflected, to a great extent, the feedback from the public gained during a three-month period of consultation on the proposed savings. Councillor Wright continued: “It has undoubtedly achieved a real understanding by the public of the financial challenge we face.
“And it has provided some pretty clear guidance on where the axe might fall and where it should be spared. Throughout the exercise, we gave a solemn undertaking that the views we garnered would be reflected in our budget decisions – and they have been.”
He said a list of further potential savings had already been drawn up by the administration. And he continued: “Top of that list in potential savings terms is the school estate and there is no point in ducking the issue. We have too many schools for the number of pupils and that includes secondary schools.
“The review of the school estate is overdue and it will be started as soon as possible under the guidance of the area-based review which cross-party members have been working on.
“The same area-based review will be used to consider the future of all our leisure facilities. Library closures are included in the budget before councillors today. That may not be the end of reductions in that sector.”
Councillor Wright explained that the longer-term budget savings also included the establishment of a single trust to run the all authority’s leisure facilities, adding: “”I do not believe the council can continue to sustain all the leisure facilities we currently enjoy.”
Councillors later approved a 3.5 per cent rise in council rents in Moray from April. It equates to a £1.72p per week increase and will take the average weekly council house rent to £50.84.
Councillor Eric McGillivray, chairman of Moray Council’s communities committee, said council house rents in Moray continued to be the lowest in Scotland. He said: “The latest increase is a fair and reasonable one and is in line with rent increases which have been applied over the past few years. It will enable us to maintain services to our tenants without imposing any hardship on tenants and their families.”