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Council leader Morris Bright predicts good year ahead for Hertsmere
The leader of Hertsmere Borough Council believes the future is looking positive for the borough as it begins to come out of recession.
Councillor Morris Bright said the council's financial forward planning meant the council would be able to cope with further reductions in the grant The Government gives to it.
He said: "This year we will be able to freeze council tax for the fifth year in a row without cutting front line services, and only increasing the price of services like parking when residents have said they are prepared to pay more to protect services such as PCSOs and waste.
He said the council’s secure financial state was due to planning for the future rather than budgeting for each year as it comes, leaving local authorities liable to be "buffeted by the tide".
He added: "The fact our 2013/2014 budget was approved by Labour for the first time since I became councillor show we are getting things right and we are working together on this."
This optimism comes as external auditors Grant Thornton said in its annual audit letter the council had met or exceeded standards by prioritising resources within tighter budgets, consulting with residents, planning for the medium term and continually monitoring performance.
However, Councillor Bright said the local authority nevertheless faced a number of challenges in the year ahead as the impact of the Government’s changes to benefits began to be felt.
He added: "Not many people have used our hardship fund so far, with £9,000 being used out of the £70,000 we set aside.
"However we have to keep an eye on those who might suffer from these changes to the welfare budget and ensure they have the help we need."
Further challenges for the council lie in preventing the decline of high streets in the borough.
Councillor Bright said: "We don’t want to find our streets full of empty shops, and the council will be working hard to encourage investment in the high street. The new chamber of commerce Hertsmere Connect, is already doing a fantastic job at this."
The council leader said Hertsmere would also have to ensure it was "as good as its word" when it came to consulting resident and keeping them better informed about planning decisions.
He said: "I hope when I am asked how we are doing this time next year I can say the council has met the three challenges of helping those in hardship, boosting the high street and ensuring the public feel they are properly consulted about planning issues."
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