Concern over the future of town museum and theatre

CONCERN about Horsham Museum and the Capitol theatre being ‘singled out’ in Horsham District Council’s financial strategy was raised at a cabinet meeting on January 26.

Among the projects which could be considered to secure future balanced budgets were options appraisals of the Capitol and museum ‘to ensure that costs are minimised and income is maximised’.

A new ‘Change Team’ was being considered to examine potential projects.

Concerned opposition leader David Holmes (LDem, Horsham Park) said: “I am surprised the museum and Capitol are singled out so prominently in all this. I would like to know what options are being considered here.”

Chief executive Tom Crowley said they were ‘significant service areas’ and they ‘need to keep everything under review’.

No options had been identified and he said if the projects went ahead there would be ‘full discussion among members, customers and residents’.

“This is just one example of what might be part of the considerations we have to undertake,” he said.

Roger Arthur (Con, Chanctonbury) said they were looking at maximising the income on their assets and doing everything they could to raise their income.

Acting leader Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry) said: “We are trying to show an optimistic way forward in difficult circumstances.”

The cabinet agreed to recommend to full council on February 22 to freeze council tax, special expenses for unparished areas of £264,170 (band D equivalent of £23.71), revenue budget of £12.785 million, along with programmes of repair and renewals and capital and £350,000 be set aside to cover redundancy costs.

Among the budget items were six redundancies and a £1.8 million bill for repairs at the Pavilions, Steyning and Billingshurst swimming pools.

The meeting heard from head of financial and legal services Sue McMillan the budget of £12.8 million was the same as in the 2005/6 financial year and the government grant had fallen by 12.4 per cent.

The council was the second lowest for spending in the whole country, beaten only by Woking, and by 2015/16 they thought they would have to save £2.8 million.

They still had a £300,000 deficit from the current year she proposed they funded from reserves. Reserves were at £6.8 million but would be down to £3.2million by 2016.

She said proposed reductions of £2,000 in community transport grants and £15,000 in grants to voluntary organisations had not been included in the budget.

Discussions would be held with organisations receiving grants to see where savings could be made without damaging services.

Mr Crowley said they had to reduce expenditure by £20 per head when they were already almost at the bottom of the table of councils for spending.

“We face a really huge challenge,” he said, pointing out the need to be cost conscious. “We need to have a broad-based approach to it and need to look at all possible options.”

They needed to get the best possible value from the management contract for leisure centres and enable an online self service system for residents.

Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) said they should take leisure services inhouse so they could carry out the £1.8million of repairs needed at the district’s three swimming pools in their own time rather than having to spend the money in one year.

Sue McMillan said leisure providers benefited from rate relief and VAT advantages not open to the council and they would be at a ‘considerable disadvantage’ straight away if they took the services inhouse.