17 Jan 2011

Stroud District Budget: where was Carmichael?

Well last Thursday was a busy day at the Council - a couple of meetings about standards of Council housing, an opportunity to visit 4 homes that had just been vacated by tenants and then an evening of Scrutiny. The main topic being the budget....well the budget will be in a couple of weeks but to give a taste here is some info...

Firstly why is the settlement so bad? We are faced with a 28.6% cut over two years rather than four years. The Government has 'front loaded' the cuts more than anyone expected and with Cotswold District Council we have the most severe cut in funding in the country. All the parties have been asking where was Neil Carmichael MP in fighting our corner?

Apparently Neil Carmichael has now met with Eric Pickles and the rumour mill says no progress was made. I have requested an update at full council and also got scrutiny to unanimously pass as part of our comments to Council, disappointment at the terrible settlement.

Tory Cllr Nigel Cooper, cabinet member for finance at SDC, did not hold out much hope for Stroud MP Neil Carmichael persuading the minister in charge of local Government that the grant given to Stroud was too low - he said to the papers: "He is a new MP, a backbencher. He is going to have a lot of difficulty persuading anyone. He is not in a position of standing as a new boy on the block. I am sure he will do our best for us."

Town and Parish precept taken into account

Meanwhile I asked a question to clarify the funding settlement. It was confirmed that Stroud District’s overall ‘spending power’ included Town and Parish Council precepts which formed part of the Council Tax and other grants, together with the Council Tax contributions from across the County ie the Government calculations have been based on the total overall expenditure for the district, not the expenditure of Stroud District Council. Not exactly fair!

So what will the cuts mean for Stroud district Council?

The Council has already identified £2.7million of budget and efficiency savings over the next four years through efficiency improvements and savings. This means many services have less staff and all sorts of corners are being cut - some corners fine but others will not be. It is in reality difficult to see how the cuts will impact.....Savings for next year now highlighted in the cabinet papers include:
  • a £40,000 projected increase in income at Dursley Pool
  • £232,900 on staffing savings via the council's four-year workforce plan, and a policy of not automatically refilling positions that become vacant
  • £42,000 savings from the reduction in the number of part-time sports centres (agreed earlier in the year)
  • an £86,500 reduction in the council's regeneration budget (mainly comprised of small grants, one-off grants and agreements which have come to an end which will not be continued)
  • a £28,500 saving from changes to how the gardening assistance scheme is provided
I have sought assurances particularly over the garden scheme as this helps many vulnerable people.

At the same time the administration is proposing an increase in funding for energy efficiency for households and businesses, money to help community transport initiatives, and funds put aside to help local businesses and the local economy. This is excellnt news and such items we have sought for sometime - they will be funded from reserves. You can see more here. Of course the County and national cuts will impact even more severely on Stroud. More of that in other blogs already and as news comes out.

See here are my comments back in November re SDC - and here when we heard the announcement and here my letter to the press. There was much more discussed but I've run out of puff now - minutes will be out soon and have more info. Also more coming soon re the inquiry regarding Council housing that I am chairing.

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