CONSERVATIVE-run Horsham District Council has shocked residents with its proposed budget. A 25 per cent increase in the cost of car parking and Sunday and evening charges are at the core of its proposals.
Councillors have until February to consider most of the budget proposals but the Conservatives wanted the parking changes approved on October 19. This rush to introduce changes which could do great damage to Horsham town’s economy is nothing short of reckless.
We are told that the increases will not deter shoppers or those visiting our restaurants yet free parking in rural car parks is defended on the basis that charges would threaten the shops in the smaller towns and villages. Come on, both arguments cannot be true.
The economies of both the villages and Horsham town need parking policies that encourage not deter parking.
Our shops are not competing with Crawley, Brighton and Guildford, but with free parking at Tesco and Sainsbury, and with the internet. It is to be hoped that the council will delay their decision, consult and think again.
As for the rest of the budget proposals, the strategy is the same as in previous years; small cuts are made across a large number of departmental budgets reducing yet further the council’s ability to actually do things for the people it serves.
This time help to young people to get to work, community transport, some wellbeing services, grants to voluntary organisations, information about leisure facilities, help to amateur and professional productions, and support for economic development are all to be cut.
The money available to be spent on helping the people of the district is cut each year while the biggest cost, the council’s staffing bill, is not addressed. The council has the equivalent of 445 employees yet the budget proposals only reduce the total by the equivalent of 5.5 full-time posts.
The council tax is frozen for another year thanks to a government grant but, if staffing levels remain at the present level, employment costs currently increasing at £177,000 each year will lead to more and more cuts to what the council actually does.
If the cost of running the council has to be cut, and central Government currently leaves no choice, effective management of the council’s costs means that the number employed must be reduced. Contracting out with the risk of declining services for higher cost in the long run is unlikely to be the answer.
The answer is better management, operational efficiency and increased joint working with neighbouring authorities.
Dr DAVID HOLMES
Councillor for Horsham Park and leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Horsham District Council
North Street, Horsham