‘Council is intent on balancing the books, considering all risk factors’

Conservative councillor Roger Arthur.
Conservative councillor Roger Arthur.

By Roger Arthur, cabinet member for finance and efficiency HDC (Con) Chanctonbury:

The Leader of the Minority Group (Cllr Holmes) suggested last week that HDC is “exaggerating” its financial challenges by making “misleading statements”. Readers can judge whose statements are misleading, after considering the facts below.

We currently anticipate a deficit for 2014/15, followed by a sizable deficit in 2015/16, which Cllr Holmes failed to mention. Unlike him, we are intent on balancing the Council’s books over a three-year period, considering all risk factors.

We are mitigating against the impact of substantial Grant reductions, without increasing Council Tax or cutting front-line services. We can do that because HDC receives income from its wise investment in assets, whilst continuing to improve efficiency and value for money.

Cllr Holmes suggests that we are “punishing residents” by putting up Car Parking charges, when in fact the District is one of the most competitive.   Indeed, it would be difficult to find another large town centre multi-storey car park in West Sussex, with charges to match 80p per hour in the Forum CP.

He also states incorrectly, that the New Homes Bonus (NHB) for 2013/14 & 14/15 is being put to Reserves, whereas in fact all of the NHB received in 2013/14 is being taken to Revenue and similar action is proposed for 2014/15 and 2015/16.

He continues to focus on possible NHB income from houses that have not been built, whilst neglecting other risk factors, such as the assumed Government grant for 2015/16, which now appears optimistic, along with the level of Business Rates collected by HDC, which may not be sustained.

He has chosen to understate the true nature of the challenge and in so doing he continues to mislead residents and even his own members seem confused.

Indeed, one of his members referred to the optional charge for Green Waste as a form of taxation, when it should be clear that those who don’t use the service will not have to pay for it, whilst another of his members observed that it was a great pity that charging for Green Waste Collection was not instituted earlier.

 Despite their criticisms, the minority group has consistently failed to suggest a viable alternative three-year financial strategy, which would obviate the need for Council Tax rises.

Horsham District is one of the best places to live in the UK and we do not intend to prejudice that, by pursuing the kind of short-termist policies that Councillor Holmes seems to favour.

As I said at the outset, I leave it to the reader to decide whose statements are misleading.

To read this week’s letter by David Holmes and correction follow this link.