Horsham council prepares to discuss next year’s budget

JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 130312 Park North, Hosham District Council office. Photo by Derek Martin

As the Government takes action to reduce the country’s budget deficit, Horsham District Council - like many other types of council - is facing ongoing cuts in the amount it is given by the Government.

Over the past two years, government support has dropped by 28 per cent or an amount equivalent to over £1.5million.

The council anticipates losing even more in 2013/14 and in the years ahead as the Government continues to find ways of reducing the deficit in the UK.

Horsham District Council’s cabinet member for efficiency and resources, Roger Arthur, said: “For years, the Horsham district has received one of the meanest Government grants per capita in the UK.

“Fortunately, for residents, Horsham District Council now employs 100 fewer staff than it did five years ago while it has taken out £7million of costs, mitigating the need for Council Tax rises. However, the ability to find even more savings is increasingly challenging.

“If no action is taken, the current account deficit would reach over £2.5million per year by 2015/16. However, there are no easy savings to be had going forward but further savings will have to be found and we will make those hard choices!

“While we are determined to do all we can to avoid unnecessary increases in council tax, we can’t stand by and do nothing and so we are now embarking on a programme to further increase income and reduce operating costs.

“The Horsham district has been voted as one of the best places to live in the UK, is one of the safest places and has the one of the lowest expenditure per head in the country. We intend to keep it as near as possible to the top of that league.”

The council receives its funding from three main sources: central Government in the form of Formula Grant, council tax paid by local residents, and by charging additional fees for certain services provided to residents such as car parking, planning applications and leisure activities.

The council retains just 9p of every £1 of council tax paid to it by Horsham district residents.

The remainder goes to West Sussex County Council and the Sussex Police Authority.

In addition, residents pay a tax for services provided by the parish councils ranging from £20.43 to £82.83 per year, depending on the location.

The average (Band D) council tax in Horsham district for 2012/13 is £1,480. However, Horsham District Council retains only £135.54 of this to fund all the services it provides, equivalent to just less than £3 per week. When compared to other district councils across the country, Horsham is one of the lowest spending councils per head of population.

The council’s planned net revenue spend for 2012/13 on the services it provides is £12.7million after taking into account the income that the council receives.

The council funds the net budget through council tax and grant from central Government. Council tax raises just over 60 per cent of the required funding and the balance is met through government grant.

Horsham District Council is committed to being an efficient organisation. Delivering value for money is one of the highest priorities and over the past five years it has saved £7million from a net revenue budget of £12million without any real service cuts. This means that there are no easy options left.

There are other challenges too - increasing inflation and rising energy and fuel prices result in further cost pressures, and lower interest rates reduce the amount the council earns on its investments. 

The general economic slowdown has a negative effect on income from fees and charges, while at the same time there is increasing demand on benefit services and the need to address homelessness.

The Government’s announcement to localise support for council tax from 2013/14, changes in benefit and the move to universal credit will bring further pressures.

The council’s cabinet and corporate management team are currently identifying the outline of a major transformation programme of key projects to find more savings and additional income to enable it to close the projected 2015/16 deficit, an amount in excess of £2.5million.

These transformational change projects will deliver the three main components of our programme: services designed around the needs of our communities, delivering high quality customer experiences at better value and a flexible workforce delivering durable efficiencies.

Last February, the council agreed its financial strategy for the period 2012/13 to 2015/16. This incorporated the then expected reductions in funding from central Government. However, the Government has since indicated more reductions and announcements on these changes are expected from the Government in late December.

The council will be considering the budget outlook up to 2015/16 at its meeting at the council’s offices in North Street, Horsham, on Wednesday October 24.