30 Jan 2010

Budget at Full Council on 21st Jan

As usual a busy week and have a cold so not firing on all cylinders but here's a quick round-up of the Full Council meeting last week and a couple of other recent meetings....

Photos: wow what a frost today

These are challenging times and there is no doubt the administration had some very hard decisions to make the budget balance - even now there are serious risks attached to it like will the canal really come in on budget? Will we get the Icelandic bank money back? What will a new Government mean for local Councils? How will the recession continue to impact...Francis Roden, Leader of SDC gave a speech - see it here on SNJ website - as an indication of how the recession is biting, the Council's revenue and benefits service paid benefits totaling £32.5 million this year compared to £26 million the previous year - an increase of 25%!

So where will cuts fall? Well already huge cuts have been made by senior staff leaving and not being replaced - this has already had a noticeable impact on other senior staff left behind - already busy workloads have massively increased - there have been other cuts too when other staff have left and the posts not refilled - again putting pressure on remaining staff....

Other cuts have come to community grants and rises in car parking charges are now agreed. All this led to Stroud District Council approving a 1.9 per cent increase in its portion of the council tax.

Greens and others opposed the Tories plans - here's a quote in the SNJ summing it up: "Some councillors at the budget meeting said the authority should investigate borrowing cash to improve services during this period of low interest rates. Cllr Sarah Lunnon (Green) said: 'What we actually need at this moment is to take a brave decision like we did on the canal and borrow some money so we can fund some of our initiatives.'"

For me it is crucial that we look at borrowing - and I was delighted that the tories did not rule it out for the future. It makes sense - especially if we can spend now to make significant energy efficincy savings and install renewables - indeed we have the potential to develop an income stream in the future - especially when most renewables will have paybacks withing 7 to 10 years - and with rising energy prices even more!!

Arts funding U-turn

The good news is that SDC has made an 11th hour U-turn on proposals to slash grants to two arts organisations in the area. Both Prema Arts Centre, in Uley, which receives £10,000 in funding from the district council, and Stroud Valleys Artspace, which receives £12,000, will now get their full grants after fears were raised that the Arts Council would withdraw their funding if the council decided to cut its grants to the organisations. However it does not look like Stroud Valleys Project will have it's grant reduction reinstalled.

Joint-Use leisure centres

I have reported on this before - see here - well at Full Council this issue was not up for discussion as it was for a special meeting of Cabinet this last Thursday. Well sadly the future of Nailsworth Recreation Centre now hangs in the balance after Cabinet voted to go forward with plans to stop funding the facility. As they noted this is only a 'notice of intent' to terminate the informal agreements to run Nailsworth Recreation Centre, Vale of Berkeley Sports Centre and Wotton Pool - but let's get real - in practice their decision will mean vital funding is cut from the facilities. Here's how the SNJ report:

Cllr Keith Pearson, cabinet member for regeneration, said: "We are only talking about handing back control of the facilities, we have never used the word closed."

Cllr Fi Macmillan (Green, Nailsworth) told the meeting that governors at Nailsworth Primary School said the centre would close if management was handed back as the school did not have the money to fund it.

The recommendations must be approved by full council on Thursday 25th February but it is not looking so good.

Members Development Group

This is a group that usually only meets a handful of times each year but we've had a number of additional meetings recently - don't think I've even mentioned I sit on this group - anyhow one of the areas we've been looking at his IT equipment used by councillors. It has traditionally been the case that Councils provide laptops for members.

SDC are now looking at giving a grant in the first year of £300 per councillor to purshase their own laptop and printer if necessary - this would mean significant savings but one issue I've ensured is addressed is that the principle is maintained that no councillor should be disatvantaged or not be able to function through lack of money....if a computer breaks before the guarantee runs out it is right that consideration is given to a replacement.

Some councillors have no problems re money but some are on low income and if we are to make the Council body representative then we need to ensure that councillors are not excluded through lack of money.

I've run out of puff writing - three other scrutiny meetings this last week but will write of those when their reports are presented in February.

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