Thursday, November 25, 2010

Town Council Draft Budget up for discussion.

I was surprised by our Town Council. Rather than just sending through the budget details they also sent through the Working Papers on the proposed Base Budget. These papers give an explanation as to the spending decisions. A note of caution. These are the preliminary numbers and can be added to or taken away from depending on the decisions taken in Committees and Council.

For the Town Council this is a big thumbs up for transparency over this budget. It would be a even bigger thumbs up if the Town Council had published these via its own website.

So what are the base numbers?

The base budget for 2011/12 is looking to be £858,406. This is down £321 on the 2010/11 precept of £858,727. With the Council Tax base due out next week, this could allow the Liberal Democrats space for a small decrease in their portion of the Council Tax. But there are many other factors which includes HDC abandonment of services and any other Conservative Stealth Taxes on the Town Council (therefore the St Neots Council Taxpayer) which still need to be resolved.

The standstill budget has been achieved by:

Central Administration
A long overdue cut in the number of Council Staff. This saved £63,521. To be taken away from this is the new position of Accountant which costs £12,600. The Town Mayor didn't mention in his annual report. This equals a cut of £50,951.

Other budget cut backs and a loss of income from HDC plus a near tripling of administration charges for the Swimming Pool Trust (accounts 295 days late and counting) means the cost of Central Administration has fallen by £58,511.

Other Costs and Income (Loans and Interest)
This cost has fallen by £5,472 mainly due to higher interest rates on larger reserves.

Cemetery and Churchyards
The cost of this has fallen because Burial Charges are down and the £5,000 allocated for the cemetery extension isn't needed in 2011/12. Net cut in expenditure of £6,600. Taking out the cost of the War Memorial will make Cemeteries and Churchyards cost neutral.

Play Areas and Open Spaces
These cost are down by £1,985 mainly due to a cut in Repairs and Maintenance.

Depot and Operational
An increase in staff costs by £16,202 is offset with cuts in Ground Maintenance - £10,000, Vehicles - £4,300 and Rent and Rates down £2,000.

Community Services
These costs are up £26,653. This is wholly due to the abandonment by HDC of the Public Toilets and the taking up of this service by SNTC. The extra cost is £28,000 and is a Conservative Stealth Tax on St Neots.

Grants and Donations
At a standstill.

Highways and The Environment
The £5,355 decrease is mainly due the the build up in reserves on Traffic Management Schemes. The £5,405 carried over from last year will be used instead. The only problem I see with this is as the budget goes down and is harder to resurrect in future years. Better to keep the money rolling in and deal with excess with virements.

Eatons Community Centre
The net expenditure has risen by £5,678 to £28,603. Whilst the cost base was predicted fairly accurately, the lack of income is what is pulling this centre down. The purpose built pre-school has had no takers on a full-time basis. Hall booking income is less than budgeted. Whilst this is entirely predictable, this is not as wild a forecast as Cllr Barry Chapman made.
Neither party comes out of the ECC looking good. Both parties supported this venture.

With the Town Council informing us ECC needs to break even this year, the budget doesn't allow for this.

Town Promotion
This cost centre has had a large drop with the Town Centre manager post deleted. With the post goes a £5,500 from the Town Centre Initiative. What has crept in here is a £10,000 splurge on the Riverside Festival. At its October meeting the Operations and Amenities Committee decided not to have a budget for Sunfest.
Are the Town Council Officers getting around this decision by making it a budget decision? Seems so!

Capital Projects
Just an extra £45,000 on the Forward Plan. This has yet to be finalised. Whilst welcome, there are no provisions for other capital projects. The Priory Centre will need loads of money. Play Areas need to be constantly renewed. Vehicles and other machinery will need to replaced. All this takes money and, I feel, the Town Council is ignoring these problems. This will cost the Council Taxpayer dearly in the future as problems build up.

Priory Centre
This has a small increase in cost of £1,698 to a budgeted figure of £97,430. With costs increasing and a downturn in the bar profits this doesn't look like it is going to break even in 5 years. The budget doesn't indicate this.

What is missing?
£60,000 for the new boiler system at the Priory Centre.

£? for the movable seating at the Priory Centre.

£? for the legal costs and potential fine.

£? for taking over abandoned HDC Services

In conclusion
This is the second year running that St Neots Town Council has produced a budget which is a fair reflection of the cost of running the Town Council. In the previous budget I said this was deficient in capital spending. I still feel this is a problem and the Town Council should be looking for a £100,000 to set a side each year to build up resources for capital spending. There is also little room for manoeuvre if the District Council abandons services.

On the whole it is the second good budget by the Town Council. Not too sure it makes up for the casino budget and the 4 wasted years. The Town Council is on the right track. Whichever party wins in 2011 they have a Town Council set for the future. Whether St Neots residents want the services the Town Council delivers and will continue to pay the costs is a different matter.

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