It might be helpful before discussing various issues raised in the press and elsewhere to look more broadly at the Council's Budget, and the conext this year.
Next year, the Council is on track to spend over £2 million. Council priorities aren't plucked out of the air, but are shaped by the strategies and consultations that have taken place in the recent past. The Council doesn't work year-to-year, but instead tries to construct its budget over a 3 year period, so proper planning can take place. It is true to say that there is an overspend this year of £1.5 million, but that is more to do with exceeded budgets in Adult Services (a problem country-wide) and nothing to do, as I have indicated, with the Pedestrian Heart scheme.
In constructing the budget, the Council is looking both to improve existing services, whilst also striving to make efficiency savings. Next initiatives such as Street Scene, the merging of certain backroom services with Stockton and the energy review will save Council Tax payers a projected £1.039.
Still, with those savings, there is a likely overun for 2008/09. Consequently, the Council will have to make some difficult decisions as to where to reduce or eliminbate spending altogether. For the first time, not only have costed proposals for reductions been published, but also cuts which the Cabinet rejected. So charging a flat-rate £1 in Council car parks on a Sunday for example (bringing us into line with Middlesbrough) was rejected, as was in my portfolio area closing the Eastbourne Sports Complex and halving the spend on the annual fireworks display.
At the end of the day, the final budget will be reflected in the response we get from members of the public. The budget does have to balance, however, and Council Tax is currently projected to rise by 4.9%. It's unlikely the Government would allow us to make any increase beyond that level, so that is not an option.
If you would like to see the budget proposals for yourself, and comment on the proposals, you can do so here. (This is very informative, and explains the whole thing far better than I have). Alternatively, you can come along and speak directly at one of the 6 Talking Together events scheduled to take place over the next few weeks;
Tuesday January 15, from 5pm to 7.30pm, at Holy Family RC Primary School, Prior Street, Cockerton. (See you there!)
Saturday January 19, from 10am to noon, at St George's CE Primary School, Neasham Road, Middleton St George.
Wednesday, January 23, from 6pm to 8pm at St. James' Church Hall, Allan Street, Albert Hill.
Wednesday, January 30, from 6pm to 8pm, at Whinfield Primary School, Jesmond Road.
Saturday, February 2, from 10am to noon, at All Saints' Church, Ravensdale Road.
Wednesday, February 6, from 6pm to 8pm, at Heathfield Primary School, The Broadway.
Then, finally, the Council’s Resources Scrutiny Committee will be reviewing the proposed budget on Tuesday, January 29 at the Town Hall. Residents can attend the meeting and comment on the budget.
A Cabinet meeting on February 19, at 5pm, in the Town Hall will consider all of the public responses and residents can also attend this meeting.
Finally, a meeting of all councillors will consider the Cabinet’s proposed budget on February 28 at 6pm, in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall. Residents can ask questions at that meeting – contact Lynne Wood on (01325) 388287 to find out how to do so.