Spending cut­back to beat rates hike

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Opinion - by Mike Ben­nett mben­nett@thek­m­group.co.uk

BIG spending cuts are on the cards as Ash­ford coun­cil bids to cope with the eco­nomic down­turn.

Coun­cil­lors say they are de­ter­mined that ratepay­ers will not be hit by a mas­sive rise in coun­cil tax to cover a huge bud­get short­fall caused by the deep­en­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

The coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive last Thurs­day agreed mea­sures for the next two years de­signed to face the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges.

Bur­den

Port­fo­lio holder for re­source man­age­ment Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) said: “Ash­ford’s coun­cil tax is the low­est in Kent.

“While other coun­cils will be pass­ing on costs we have faced up to the fact that in­come will be lost and de­cided not to pass the bur­den on to tax­pay­ers and to keep be­low the nor­mal five per cent in­crease.”

He said that in the chal­leng­ing times the coun­cil had to make hard choices if it was to con­tinue to de­liver core ser­vices ef­fec­tively and pro­tect the in­ter­ests of all res­i­dents.

He added: “Our key aim in con­sid­er­ing th­ese pro­pos­als has been to pro­tect front­line ser­vices so far as prac­ti­ca­ble, but there will in­evitably be an im­pact on the coun­cil’s abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices at the qual­ity we would ideally like.”

A let­ter has been sent to Hazel Blears MP, Sec­re­tary of State for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, to ad­dress the level of grants awarded to the coun­cil.

The coun­cil

is

seek­ing an­other £500,000 sup­port a year to deal with the ex­cep­tional pres­sures as a re­sult of Ash­ford’s des­ig­na­tion as a key Gov­ern­ment Growth Area.

Mem­bers were given an in­depth brief­ing by chief ex­ec­u­tive David Hill on se­nior man­age­ment team pro­pos­als for cut­backs to meet a £3.2 mil­lion short­fall over the next two years, in­clud­ing tak­ing £100,000 from re­serves.

He said: “It is a chal­lenge as it is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict inflation and in­ter­est rates.

“We have had to cut out some growth items and as­pi­ra­tional in­creases to im­prove ser­vices like en­hanced re­cy­cling that has been de­ferred for two years.

“But it all adds up to a clear plan of action and I am con­fi­dent it can be achieved.”

Hon­est

It in­cludes pro­pos­als rang­ing from in­creased car park charges to the pos­si­ble clos­ing of ru­ral pub­lic con­ve­niences.

All will be de­bated in depth over the next cou­ple of months be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion is taken.

Cllr Rita Haws (Lib Dem), said: “This will mean a cut in ser­vices and we have got to be hon­est with the pub­lic that in some ar­eas they will not be able to have the ser­vices they pre­vi­ously ex­pected.”

Cllr John Hol­land (Ind) was wor­ried about pos­si­ble pub­lic toi­let clo­sures and said he was wary that pub­li­cans would agree to pro­vide free ser­vices.

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