Anyone expecting a full and open debate at last week’s HDC meeting on the Budget, would have been disappointed.
I raised a number of questions, as indicated below, but got inadequate answers.
Sadly the chairman refused to allow me to pursue those inadequacies.
1. In the past economic growth put more money into the Government coffers, allowing more scope for the funding of councils. This time, tax receipts have not increased with new jobs and I said that we must be ready for the consequences of that. One councillor tried to respond to that, but failed to address the issue.
2. I also asked to know the redundancy costs arising from the Business Transformation Project (BTP) and we were told that the total BTP cost to-date is around £500,000. However that conflicted with the fact that redundancy costs alone have previously been given as £630,000 while another estimate of £550,000 has been seen.
Indeed, an F&P Working Group report dated 19th Nov put BTP costs at £324,493, implying a total cost (including redundancies) of around £900,000, against a £500,000 budget but I was not allowed to question that further.
3. The BTP project was expected to save £1,250,000 pa but the savings were reported at only £440,000 pa, with a further £100,000 ‘anticipated’.
That leaves over £800,000 for the next council to find - almost three years after the BTP started. I asked for some idea of the plan proposed to deal with that shortfall, allowing the next council to hit the ground running, but it seems that there isn’t one.
4. The size of Reserves was also questioned and whether HDC is being unduly risk averse, missing out on better returns, while taking the risk that (if the amount is not justified) the Government might take some of the funds. There is clearly an optimum balance between different demands but again we could not get a sensible response.
So, it was easier for the chairman (seemingly at the prompting of the CE) not to allow me to ask further questions - which was a pity since other non-Cabinet members might also have liked to know more!
Such is democracy and transparency in HDC!
Horsham district councillor for Chanctonbury ward and UKIP parliamentary candidate for Horsham, North Street, Horsham