HYNDBURN Council's ruling Conservative group has managed to make an 11th-hour cut in the level of next year's council tax.
The rise in the council's share of the bill will now be just five per cent instead of the 8.2 per cent recommended by the Cabinet last week.
That equates to just 12p a week extra for householders in the most common Band A group. The overall rise, taking county council, police and fire service levies into account, will be 3.3 per cent, below the national average of four per cent.
Tory leader Councillor Peter Britcliffe said he had made further savings by transferring only £500,000 instead of £600,000 into balances and making a further £20,000 in efficiency savings.
In presenting his budget speech at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, he said three factors had made this year's budget process a particularly challenging one:
- Reckless borrowing decisions by previous Labour administrations which had left an ever-increasing burden of debt.
- The impact of pensions which are continuing to hit the bottom line and have been put under strain by people living longer. But Councillor Britcliffe said: "In part, however, our pension problems are also the result of the culture that used to exist in this council which treated early retirement almost as a right and golden handshakes as the rule rather than an exception to the rule."
- Inflationary costs affecting staff and supplies.
Councillor Britcliffe added: "Taken together, these major items, together with a number of smaller ones, mean we needed to find around £1.6M of efficiency savings to balance the books this year. We have done this by introducing an eight per cent reduction in budgets,while protecting our frontline services wherever possible."
Measures taken include:
- Opening the way to a transfer of the council's housing stock to a housing association and extending the Leisure Trust, which will mean around a quarter of the council's workforce will have been transferred to outside organisations by March next year.
- Examining ways to reduce the council's accommodation requirements.
- Taking tough action against high levels of absenteeism among council staff.
- Sharing resources with partner organisations, in particular Blackburn with Darwen Council which has provided senior officers to tackle regeneration work.
But Councillor Britcliffe pledged in the next financial year the council would press ahead with the market renewal programme; spend over £6.7M on the demolition and redevelopment of the areas of poorest housing in the borough; introduce recycling for a wider range of materials; devolve control of parks and open spaces to area councils; and spend an extra £58,000 on the concessionary fares scheme to help the old and disabled.
New council tax figures are: Band A £866.92; Band B £1,011.41; Band C £1,155.90; Band D £1,300.39; Band E £1,589.37; Band F £1,878.35; Band G £2,167.31; and Band H £2,600.78.
A full report on the council's budget debate will appear in next week's paper.