Hedge End Town Council approved it’s budget for 2015-16 this evening, with the good news that Council Taxpayers will see another 0% increase on the Parish component of their Council Tax bill.
However the Finance & Admin meeting was far from uneventful, with some rare dissent within the ranks of the Lib Dems…
Cllr Nathan Khan (Lib Dem), who was co-opted to the Town Council in June 2014, proposed that an extra £21k should be added to the budget for 2015-16, to support the development of a new bus service around the Town. More planning work was needed, but on the basis of his initial discussions Cllr Khan wanted the £21K to be included in the 2015-16 budget, so that the new service could be introduced as quickly as possible after further discussions in Council/Committee meetings.
Cllr Khan explained that he currently envisaged a service running in a figure of 8 loop around Hedge End on a Thursday & Saturday and proposed that money could be found by scrapping proposals for a drinking fountain on Greta Park, scrapping proposals for an outdoor table tennis table by the paddling pool and taking £5k each from the Berry Theatre, the Dowds Farm Park improvements and the reserves.
This caused the other Lib Dem Councillors a problem, as in 2014 Hedge End Town Council had cancelled the bus service set up as part of the Town Team project. This service had been introduced using £10k of funding from Central Government, a spin-off from the prestigious Portas Pilot project.
When speaking about this past failure, Cllr Baynes just stopped herself from using the word ‘disaster’ and corrected it to ‘unsuccessful’, but Cllr Welsh more openly said that the service was a disaster in the sense that nobody used it, rather than a disaster in terms of planning.
Cllr Khan’s proposal was then rejected, by a majority of 4 to 2, with Cllr Day (Independent) seconding Cllr Khan’s proposal.
The alternative proposal, from Cllr Pretty, was to ring-fence £21k of the reserves for this purpose. The discussions could continue in future Finance & Admin meetings and if the project got off the ground the £21k could be drawn upon from reserves. Cllr Khan was not happy with this alternative proposal whilst Cllr Day argued that the Town Council should be more upfront about what it was proposing to spend money on. Cllr Day said that the £21k should be shown in the main budget rather than hidden within the reserves. In the event, Cllr Pretty’s alternative proposal was approved by a majority of 4 to 2, the voting split exactly the same way as before.
During the debate, the question of funding for Dowds Farm Park was raised, where it was revealed that the £240K of developer contributions for Dowds Farm Park have been used to reduce the size of the loan needed to build the new Groundsmans Store in Hedge End. Cllr Day argued that more money in the reserves should also be ring-fenced, so that it was there when needed for Dowds Farm, whilst Cllr Pretty argued that the Developer Contributions were for the overall good of Hedge End as a whole, not just Dowds Farm Park, and the Groundsmans store was an appropriate use of the money.
Also during the debate, Cllr Day suggested that funding for the new bus service could be found by cancelling the HETC funding for the PCSO’s. It is public knowledge that Hedge End’s Town Councillors have generally been dissatisfied with the level of service provided by the PCSO’s in Hedge End, but the Town Clerk announced that behind the scenes discussions have taken place and he is expecting the level of service to improve.
The Councillors seemed re-assured by that, but when the question of PCSO funding more formally arose on the agenda, Cllr Pretty was heard to say “Oh God!”, indicating the difficulty the Town Council have with this funding.
In the event, Cllr Khan proposed that the payments should be released in 3 monthly instalments, subject to the Town Council receiving an acceptable report from the Police on the activities of the PCSO’s within Hedge End. This proposal was unanimously accepted by the Councillors that were present. PCSO funding will therefore continue for another year, subject to the Town Council being satisfied with the level of service being provided.
The Committee approved a cost of living increase in salaries for its staff, as recommended by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services Pay Award, but also resolved to a tightening of incremental pay rises for its staff..
The main vote on the budget went the same way approved by 4 to 2, with Cllr’s Khan & Day sticking to the concerns that they had expressed previously
The only Councillor to send their apologies this evening, was Cllr House.