Last week’s County Times carried an article saying that Liberal Democrats were criticising Horsham District Council for punishing residents and putting jobs at risk. The facts behind this are important so I have asked for my comments to be printed in full as a letter.
Horsham District’s Conservative-run council justifies its current policies including car parking charge increases on the basis that the main Government Grant will fall by 26.5 per cent over the next two years.
The facts are that the recent Government statement of 19th December, makes it clear that the total relevant Government grant will fall by just 2.3 per cent over two years; £300k out of £14m; 1.2 per cent in 13/14 and 1.1 per cent in 14/15. The council continues to exaggerate the financial challenges by making misleading statements about Government cuts in funding.
The council states that its grant will fall by £450k but omits to mention that we will get an additional £350k in New Homes Bonus; money we are paid because we are willing to build the much needed local homes, compensating us for the pain that many of us have to suffer as a result of the huge amount of local house building.
The council’s problem is not falling grant but increasing costs. Council expenditure is forecast to rise by 5.4 per cent in 13/14; £689k.
The current budget for 13/14 actually forecasts a surplus of £367k, not a shortfall. There is therefore no need to increase parking charges, some by 20 per cent, when having already increased many by 25 per cent in 2012. Having a surplus also cannot be justified as needed to fund future capital expenditure since Reserves are already large and the sale of Broadbridge Heath will bring in further significant capital sums.
In 13/14 the council quite appropriately plans to use the New Homes Bonus, money paid to us because we are building houses, to fund expenditure. That is what the Government expects and why it includes the New Homes Bonus in what it calls the council’s ‘Spending Power’.
Perversely the council, as we build even more houses over the next few years, does not plan to spend the additional New Homes Bonus that we will receive to fund our expenditure; £450k in 14/15 and £900k in 15/16 with the result that there will be a shortfall each year, a gap that it will have to find a way of filling.
Instead the council punishes residents with higher parking charges, retailers with reduced sales and council employees with risks to their jobs.
Clearly early in this New Year there needs to be a seminar involving all councillors that considers the Government Settlement, New Homes Bonus policy and the implications for the next three years.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Horsham District Council, North Street, Horsham
Editor’s note: herewith a correction to the article in the January 3 County Times referring to Liberal Democrat criticism of the council for punishing residents.
The paper was wrong to suggest that Dr Holmes had said that the council was putting the 2013/14 New Homes Bonus in to reserves. To the contrary he welcomed the fact that the council plans to use the money to fund expenditure. His criticism is that the council does not plan to use the additional New Homes Bonus that will be received in 2014/15 and 2015/16 in the same way. Read his views in full in his letter above.