Hertsmere Borough Council "must balance books" claims opposition

Hertsmere Borough Council

Hertsmere Borough Council "must balance books" claim opposition

First published in News Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Councillors need to balance their books and not rely on one-off Government grants, was the message from the opposition party at a full council meeting.

Hertsmere Borough Council’s budget for the 2014/2015 financial year was agreed by full council, and it was also unanimously decided that council tax would not rise for the fifth consecutive year.

The draft net budget for 2014/15 is £12,294,970, which represents a cut of £228,180 on the 2013/14 budget.

The annual budget is made up of council tax, charges and fees, as well as government grants.

This year, it sets aside £128,000 to support PCSOs, £50,000 on economic development regeneration and in light of the welfare benefit changes the council has said they will continue to protect vulnerable groups, retaining the hardship fund for council tax support claimants.

Leader of the opposition Labour group, Councillor Ann Harrison, and the rest of her party did not vote in support of the budget. She said: "The problem with the budget is the fact it is too reliant on the new homes bonus.

"The money from that should be spent in areas where the houses are being built. There is also a lack of consultation with residents in areas where development is taking place.

"The council needs to think radically about how they can save money away from this scheme because the government could cancel it. The budget has not thought enough about the future.

"We are happy with the idea of no increase in council tax. At the moment the budget is not sustainable. They need to think about how to work with other council’s and cut costs."

John Graham, portfolio holder for finance and property, said: "This year the new homes bonus will contribute £1,148,380. We are fortunate because we have the economic activity in our borough.

"Taking the new homes bonus into our core revenue budget will place a reliance on this borough to build new homes. We are accepting and using this grant because it protects services for residents. But we need to be cognisant of the risk of becoming dependant on this sort of income."

The council has also agreed to make a one off payment of £427,000 to the pension scheme.

Councillor Graham continued: "That may sound a lot but it reflected the impact of 40 less staff for four years, which overall is a saving of four million pounds.

"To summarise we need to be vigilant. To repeat what I said last year we need to reserve our assets. We are prepared to weather the challenges ahead whilst protecting the excellent services. This budget carries on our good work and I recommend it to this council. "

The freeze in council tax means a resident in an average Band D property will pay just over £157 in council tax to the borough council for 2014/15 - which is 43 pence per day.  

The money will be used to fund services such as waste and recycling, planning, housing, parks and open spaces, street cleaning and environmental health.

At the meeting, held at Hertsmere Council's Civic Offices, the council also voted to change its constitution after the Government announced local authorities would have to record the votes of particular councils at its annual budget meeting.

This is designed to encourage transparency as the Government said local people should be able to see how those they have elected to represent them have voted on these crucial decisions.

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