Wednesday, October 27, 2010

As HDC puts it: Blancing the budget – tough decisions ahead

In a statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review, which was announced last Wednesday, HDC has finally gotten around making a statement. These are my comments on this very late statement.

In the wake of the announcements contained in the coalition government’s spending review, the leader of Huntingdonshire District Council has warned that tough decisions would have to be made – but the forward planning the council had already embarked upon would help the process. HDC was looking at £6.1 million of cuts before the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced.

Even before last week’s announcement that local government resource grants will be reduced by some 26 per cent in real terms over the next four years, the council had already identified that significant savings needed to be made over the next few years. Because you had identified there was £6.1 million of cuts needed to balance the deficit. Over the summer a public consultation exercise to find out people’s preferences for a balance between service reductions and council tax increases, and identify where savings would gain the most support or cause greatest dissatisfaction. The results of this exercise haven't been published - yet!

The council’s leader, Councillor Ian Bates, said this week: “Savings on the scale announced last week are bound to hit services --- and it’s not just us. Other public service providers are in the same position. Some tough decisions will have to be made. Again what about the £6.1 million of cuts?

“We have already started the process of making economies, such as sharing services with partners and reducing staffing levels, and the information gained from our recent public consultation exercise will be of value as we go through the process of formulating our budget for the coming year. One heartening factor to have emerged is that the results showed an encouragingly high level of satisfaction with the current level of council services. The percentage of residents who expressed dissatisfaction was just 8 per cent – one of the lowest of 130 similar consultations carried out over the last seven years.” A high level of satisfaction bought with the money HDC got from transferring the management of Council Housing to Luminus. Now the money is running out and services are cut I wonder whether residents will look at the few services left in the same light.

Councillor Terry Rogers, executive councillor for finance, said more detailed information was still awaited. “We are still awaiting clarification on a number of matters, and of course we do not know what our settlement will be, and won’t know that until the beginning of December. So you know nothing new!

“We have a background of being good at managing our finances efficiently and a long record of being a low taxing authority.” But the Council now complains the Government didn't allow the Council to hike Council Tax. How can you be a low taxing authority and complain that Council Tax is too low? Yes, we are in self delusional land.

The full council received a report setting out financial options prior to setting its budget and spending programme at its meeting in September.

The Conservatives have been running HDC for decades. They have had at least 6 years to rectify the deficit and yet the Conservatives have not come up with any real strategy for the future of HDC.

No comments: