Council’s budget talks start

PROPOSALS to save £1million in the budget for the next financial year were noted by Horsham district councillors last Wednesday (October 19).

They heard the results of consultation with stakeholders affected by the savings and service reductions would be reported back to the cabinet.

The proposals included losing five full time and one part time post, reducing transport and other grants, cuts to discretionary rate relief and reducing park services.

Director of corporate resources Tony Higgins gave a presentation called ‘Tackling our deficit’ and said by 2014/15 the council had to find a total of £1.805million in savings or increased income to balance its budget of £12.801million.

“This would need to be achieved by service cuts, efficiency savings, increases in income or a combination of these,” his report said.

Having saved £7million in the last five years, the net budget as £12.83million in 2005/6 and only £12.80million in 2011/12.

“This has been achieved with the minimal impact on service provision,” he said.

“Given the enormous pressures on all local authority budgets at the present time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain this position.

“The detailed suggestions before you attempt to limit the impact on our services as much as possible.

“It is, I believe, worth stressing to members that while they may have individual preferences as to the manner of closing the gap in the council’s finances any dimunition of saving or gain in a particular suggested area means that an alternative will need to be found.”

LDem group leader David Holmes (Horsham Park) was concerned £2.2million in savings had to be found by the end of the 2014/5 financial year.

He thought the shortfall in government grant was being provided instead via the New Homes Bonus and asked why this wasn’t being used to balance the budget rather than going into reserves.

“Does this administration really want to cut back on what the council does even when it doesn’t need to,” he said.

The council received £379,000 bonus this year and would get the same for another five years plus additional amounts each year.

“In the year we are budgeting for we will probably get around £700,000.”

He reiterated his view in last week’s County Times they should cut staff costs and said staffing costs should not increase year on year.

“As older people retire younger people on lower salaries will join. The total salary bill should remain about the same.”

He said the council had few younger people and maybe some staff would welcome early retirement.

But he welcomed the opportunity to carefully consider the proposals before the budget was set in February.

Jim Rae (Con, Holbrook East) warned if they cut staffing they had to take into account redundancy costs which could ‘significantly outweigh salary gains’.

David Sheldon (LDem, Denne) said the report did not describe the impact on the different groups and services of reducing the budgets.