Priorities and Choices

“It’s about priorities and choices” said Council Leader Keith House as he delivered his blueprint for dealing with a £800k shortfall in government funding while presenting this year’s budget to the council.

In a wide ranging speech he detailed how the property market would deliver an income stream through commercial rentals and through payments from the government’s ‘New homes bonus’ for housing development which would allow the council to peg basic council tax with no impact on frontline services – but warned  “it’s not going to be easy – there is going to be some pain”

Councillor house revealed:

  • Councillors allowances were to be frozen
  • Future Council Tax would be – 1% of RPIX
  • Government funding cut by 12% this year , 10.9% next year
  • A further £800k lost in specific grants
  • Council will have to find £4.5 million savings every year
  • Government’s ‘New Home Bonus’ could be worth up to £2 million a year
  • County council puts an end to free concessionary travel for Eastleigh residents
  • Eastleigh local area to have responsibility for its own ‘parish’ style budget

Cllr House’s speech in full:

“Good evening Mr Mayor in some way s this year’s budget is straight forward to present.

We’re not framing forward new proposals for revenue spending and probably like every council in the country are coping on a reduced budget. So much has changed in the last year this time last year Gordon brown was still Prime Minister and the full effect of Labour’s overspending was still not fully appreciated.

Of every £4 that was spent by the state – and that includes the grant we receive a whole £1 that’s 25% is being borrowed just imagine that with your own household finances after four years you debt accumulated equivalent to your entire household income totally out of control and unsustainable it’s on that basis the e Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives concluded after the last election there was a case for a nation coalition to try and rectify the deficit and bring forth stable finances

So the backdrop for this budget is about coping with less income from government and difficult choices that come from that drop in income.

It’s worth remembering too that the deficit reduction package launched by the coalition government was fractionally more generous than Labour’s plans if they had been re-elected

It isn’t my style to play the blame game I’ve stood here on many an occasion after a difficult financial settlement and said we’ve got to be the masters of our own destiny it’s no use us simply blaming government, that stands and still is my position

We are a positive council looking positively in to the future but it’s worth getting the facts out in front of everyone again just for the record

The national news and local newspapers are full of doom and gloom about local government finances and services that too is not a path I want to tread

For here in Eastleigh we had anticipated thee need to make genuine efficiency savings long before the election and alongside the chancellors emergency budget last summer we were able to lock into and develop further our plans for sustainable finance for our council and our community

We were helped by our asset management plan which had been held up by some councils elsewhere as risky -you know the old phrase from yes minister when civil servant Sir Humphrey says ‘very brave minister’? well I don’t quit cast Nick Tustian in that light well we thought it was common sense to invest and we have been proved right with an asset portfolio which has given us a cushion against cuts and we have been held up across the board as having taken good decisions but it doesn’t mean that the budget front of the council this evening is easy it doesn’t mean it can be delivered without some pain.

We have been able to avoid significant cuts in frontline services but that doesn’t mean we have been able to do everything we did as well as we have been able to do in the past.

Yes we will make sure our performance in areas that impact on vulnerable groups is not affected for example by keeping up our speed of determination of housing benefit claims in other services such as development control are now under much tighter pressure and its simply not the case that we will see all plans decided quickly as was in the past

It s about priorities, it’s about choices. As councillors we play our part too, with the freezing of allowances, fewer special responsibility allowances a 5% real term cut in our allowance over the next two years. On this agenda tonight is a report slimming down our own democratic arrangements so that the staff cost of servicing the council is reduced.

Again it’s about priorities and choices.

So let me at this stage in introducing g the budget pay tribute to all of our staff across the entire council for shouldering a very difficult task of creating a balanced budget for Eastleigh, they too have seen a pay freeze and many will experience reductions in funding for travel,

We have terrific staff I’m proud of them and I know that you are too and I know that we would all like that to be on the record.

It’s not been easy either for finance staff putting together a strong budget among the shifting sands of government announcements. It’s taken the new government longer than we would have liked to bring forward final figures on which to base our spending plans, so thanks to Nick, to Martin, Sarah and all in the finance team for making the sums add up and of course to Pauline who has to make sure that the English language is applied to their maths

So let’s look then at some of the details.

And let me start with council tax. For seven consecutive years with our council tax guarantee we have kept tax levels 1% below Decembers RPIX .Over 7 years our tax rises totalled 11% set against inflation over that period of 23% and of course it’s now rising by 4 or 5%. It’s an impressive record and it’s unrivalled amongst our neighbouring councils. This year thanks to support form the coalition government we are freezing council tax. Every principal local authority in Hampshire is doing the same. Many will next year return to inflation linked tax increases we won’t in that traditional sense our commitment as we announced last year was to continue our policy of tax increase below inflation. We said then the tax increase for next year 2012 -13 would be on our usual formula of December’s RPIX minus 1%.

That’s what it will be, we keep our pledges.

So residents can be assured that this year frozen tax is not a flash in the pan – and that next year we will again keep tax below inflation. We will do this because alone of the major political parties the Liberal Democrats don’t like council tax its regressive, its taxes people most relatively, those who do not qualify for benefits who struggle to bring up families on low wages or subsist on state pension handouts often topped up by meagre or no private pension. Our approach remains to let people keep their own money and only tax when we need to do so.

Lets look at our finances and start with government grant, taking out the impact of transferred services and council tax grant deduction, the provisional settlement represents a real cash reduction in grant of £814,00 ( 12%) in 2011/12 and a further £631,000 (10.9%) in 2012/13. This compares to the government published reduction for Eastleigh Borough Council of 6.27% and 5.28%. Significant real term reduction in funding but we can’t see these figures in isolation we know that the spending review forecast further grant reductions in 2013/14 and in 2014/15. Our working assumptions the grant will further reduce to £4.8 million in 2014/15 these figures are those we reported to cabinet, if anyone wants to track them back, and the equivalent figure for grant in 1995 – 16 years ago- 19 years ago by 2014, was £5.8 million. But we have to look wider than our base grant. We have also seen a loss of £828,000 in specific grants. These grants funded a range of activity from work in planning and development to funding free swimming. All have had to be worked out of the budget often with pain attached.

Taking all these figures together will give us a reduction in total net expenditure in 2011/12 to £12.664 million – a year on year reduction of nearly £1.3 million. Taking efficiency savings together by 2013/14 over four years we need to achieve savings of nearly £4.5 million every year. There are other changes in the budget that we present to council; the most obvious of the changes this year is the further transfer of services to many of our parish and town councils and the arrival now after their first election, of the new parish council in Allbrook and North Boyatt and Chandlers Ford. It’s been good to see the new councils established and give an additional voice in decision making for those local communities. Now that we have finished separating our budgets for the new parishes and understand the cost in the remaining non parished area in the town centre more clearly its possible for r Eastleigh Local Area Committee to have full financial responsibility for parish level services in the non parished area. So from next year not only will these amounts be devolved to the local area committee but the local area committee will have control of that element of council tax that relates specifically to its own area.

One change we will see in our budget for next year is the introduction from the government of the new homes bonus this is another coalition government initiative that passes additional money to councils where development has taken place for next year this grant is worth more than £400,000 to us we will ring fence it for purposes with a proportion being used for much needed additional affordable housing in time based on current rules the grant could be worth £2million each year to us.

The other big change in the budget this year is the loss of concessionary travel to Hampshire County Council. This was a decision of though outgoing government but has created its own headaches especially for those districts like Eastleigh who funded a better scheme than the national basic scheme The government decided to remove from our budget not just the funding provided for the core scheme but also the funding they thought we spent on concessionary travel sadly, as so often is the case with these things the numbers don’t add up. With the County council deciding to implement a less good scheme then the one enjoyed now by our residents we’ve ended up effectively handing over our money to areas elsewhere in the count, but the sad little story for our residents is they’ll lose out on free travel before 9. It was going to be 9.30 but the County Council advanced that by 30 minutes this morning they’ll lose access to free rail travel and they lose out on free use of community transport like dial-a-ride. Those of us here who are county councillors did try today to get wider benefits for Eastleigh residents restored but our pleas fell on deaf ears.

We are not the only ones losing out New Forest residents who had free access to the Hythe ferry now won’t and neither will Gosport residents s be able to get free access to the Pompey ferry just think of the long bus journeys that’s going to be needed to get Gosport residents to Portsmouth – it’s crazy!

But to make just a slight diversion to county budget -some of us had the pain of this since 9 am this morning and if councillors Tennent, Kyrle and Thomas and Rolling look a little haggard as a result -that’s why. We have also seen today the loss of 35% of the budget for children’s centres and the effective end of the county youth service

But you’ll be reassured to know the county still felt able to dump quite a few millions extra into reserves which will stand at £130 million in a year’s time.

If you find my budget numbers a little dry let’s take a little look at the year ahead because it isn’t all doom and gloom, far from it. Yes, we have to achieve efficiency targets but we are getting on with the job of delivering quality services too. First let’s take a look at projects in the community. Here in Eastleigh, you Mr. Mayor and Chris Huhne MP are opening tomorrow the new Energy youth centre in Leigh Road. The Local Area Committee have been saying for years they wanted to provide a dedicated youth centre in Eastleigh town centre now we have one. I managed a sneak preview just as kit was being moved in a few weeks back and it looks impressive. Take a look if you get the chance and spread the word, they are great facilities. From IT to electronic games from coffee, traditional discos and some chill space too! There is even a recording studio ,well maybe some new beat combo can put Eastleigh on the map!

Down the road in West End we will launch our very own ‘go ape’ course at Itchen Valley Country Park. It’s a really good example of providing a community facility that encourages fitness activity and the exploration of our woodlands which will bring an income to the council. Now I would really like to take the credit for this but councillor Alan Broadhurst got there first having seen a similar facility at Moors Valley. This shows innovation, shows we can make change work ,shows we can create some income along the way to help with those financial pressures .

Next door in Hedge end on the 7th April we launch the Berry theatre. This is the culmination of our plan for sports and arts on the Wildern site for the whole community in the south of the borough.

It’s a nearly £4 million pound project and nearly 300 seats – the Berry is a similar size to the Point but where the Point brings us images of dance and light open space- the berry brings us images of theatre and balconies and red, lots and lots of red…berries…geddit??

Never mind.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpuWqdaLZDo

The Berry theatre programme has already been delivered across the Hedge end area there are a stack of events over the opening weekend. I hope all councillors will be able to get there at some point to see our new venue for themselves.

Secondly let’s look at some of our policy commitments and objectives that we were striving for: our policy priorities of the environment, prosperity and health.

These are our continued effort to do our bit to tackle climate change. We’ve not quite reached our 50% recycling target the recession put paid to that but what we have seen is our rates hold up we were at 48% late last year and overall waste volumes (which matter much more) have actually gone down. As an aside at least two communities in the borough have now exceeded a 50% recycling target – Fair Oak and Hiltingbury. We don’t have data for all community levels so please don’t ask for stats for your ward. But the councillors in those areas at least might be able to take a little glow of satisfaction for their communities’ performance

We can do our bit tackling climate change also by looking at transport and our own activities the car club we launched has gone from strength to strength and has started just started to involve local people we are looking got see if we can expand it during the year and we can do our bit in tackling climate change buy investing in renewable energy. Cabinet has approved initial funding of £1 million pounds to fit solar photovoltaic panels to existing council and community owned building s and we are working to take advantage of feed in tariffs to the national grid that our Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change *whispers* Chris Huhne has opened up to councils. This will not only reduce energy costs but will produce income to help meet future efficiency targets.

Green is good.

On prosperity we are still seeing the benefits in our town centre of the launch of our bowling and cinema extension to the Swan Centre. It’s encouraging to see new businesses opening widening the appeal of our town centre Eastleigh. Increasingly is the place of choice to go of an evening. In Eastleigh too we have managed our growing property base with rentals to growing businesses and this will be added to within the next two years with our own move to the town centre, a project which also modernise and improve the energy efficiency of Eastleigh House.

That move will free up our own site for redevelopment

On health we know the coalition government is committed to increasing the efficiency of the Health Service and bringing decision making down to local GPs, cutting out tiers of bureaucracy. This means we will have to devil closer relationships with local GPs as we work for better public health. With control of more schools moving away from the county council to local ownership and academies there is s enormous potential for us to be the link between education, health and community activity

We have already delivered in this area with our work over many years in all of the boroughs secondary schools at working on sports and arts projects there’s more we can do and I’m particularly excited by a new project being developed in Bursledon where we’re working jointly with local GPs, the local community association and the county and parish councils, working on plans for a new medical centre with a library space and a revitalised community building. It’s a terrific project, we’re holding the rein keeping it all together and it’s in its earliest stages of development.

We are also working on a project to see the household waste recycling site in Eastleigh move from its current inadequate site in Woodside Avenue to a new site in Chesnut Avenue this will be a real bonus for the north of the borough.

Firstly it will remove the long traffic queues and congestion at Woodside Avenue and secondly it will make for a much more accessible site for residents in much of the town and Chandlers Ford. More details will be on a report to cabinet next month

So despite the difficult times there’s a lot going on. I know I’ve only just scratched the surface here.

We remain an ambitious council, its part of our genetic code

We will continue to be relentlessly positive and say ‘yes’ to change.”

  5 comments for “Priorities and Choices

  1. mm
    Eastleigh Xpress
    March 2, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Longest post yet?

  2. March 2, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Look out.. His lips are moving AGAIN..!!!

  3. easypeasy
    March 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    The priorities are “Environment, Prosperity and Health”??

    I thought it was “Dance,Theatre and Property”

    The council has spent far more on developing and running the Point and the Berry then they have on Health and they have spent millions more on property purchases than they have on the environment.

  4. Andy Lombardi
    March 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    It looks like Barnsley’s electorate have shown the way with regard to these people.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12645090

    Mr Clegg says

    “I have no doubt people will try to use this single result to write off the Liberal Democrats. They have done it in the past and we have proved them wrong and we will prove them wrong again”

    Oh Mr Clegg! You have more promises to break?

    No shock there then.

    Let’s hope that the people of Eastleigh voice the same opinion in this coming local elections.

    As a Labour man I’d rather have the Tories, at least they tell you they are going to shaft you!

  5. March 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    It looks like Barnsley’s electorate have shown the way with regard to these people.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12645090Mr Clegg says“I have no doubt people will try to use this single result to write off the Liberal Democrats. They have done it in the past and we have proved them wrong and we will prove them wrong again”Oh Mr Clegg! You have more promises to break?No shock there then.Let’s hope that the people of Eastleigh voice the same opinion in this coming local elections.
    As a Labour man I’d rather have the Tories, at least they tell you they are going to shaft you!  

    I could not agree more, with the Lib Dems they promise you that you will NOT get shafted, then shaft you, then say you misunderstood the shafting..!!

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