Letter: ‘Good times are over’

YOUR pronouncements in the County Times of December 22, regarding the Horsham District Council leadership election, seem to neglect the unprecedented challenges facing us and other local authorities.

The fact is that Government grants continue to reduce, in the face of low UK growth and that HDC faces a budget deficit rising to £1.8m per annum by 2015-16.

We could seek to eliminate that deficit a) by raising HDC’s element of council tax by around 20 per cent, b) reducing costs, or c) by increasing income.

Having already reduced costs by about £7m per annum over the last five years, it is going to be increasingly difficult to compensate for grant reductions, by reducing costs alone.

Accordingly, this administration seeks to raise income, by sweating assets, which it manages on behalf of the taxpayer, allowing services (such as weekly waste collection) to be maintained.

So if an asset is generating a low return compared with others, residents would expect us to consider options for releasing capital from it to obtain a better return, to minimise (if not avoid) the need for tax increases.

Of course we must validate the business case, seeking to minimise unnecessary inconvenience to the users of such facilities, before we migrate to more cost effective ways of providing them.

However, when making decisions we will balance the needs all of the 130,000 residents in the district, including those who have lost jobs, or who are on low and fixed pensions and who would not welcome a large increase in council tax. The next time that you make pronouncements about leadership contenders, you might want to do it in the context of the above challenges.

Needless to say, the leader’s role is onerous and very time consuming, requiring a lot of commitment, teamwork and direction. Anyone who is willing to take on that burden and does make a success of it, often at a significant sacrifice, deserves respect.

No politician likes to give out messages that the good times are over, but surely people would prefer the unvarnished truth, to the spin that they have become accustomed to in the past.

People will also appreciate that most local politicians are not here to maximise their expenses and that they continue to put a commitment to duty, ahead of their public image.

ROGER ARTHUR

(Con) Horsham district councillor for Chanctonbury and cabinet member for a safer and healthier district

North Street, Horsham