Published: February 18, 2009
Sedgemoor District Council's leader explains cost-cutting plans in full

Sedgemoor District Council's leader, Cllr Duncan McGinty, gave his annual budget speech on Wednesday afternoon (February 18th) in which he explained the "difficult decisions" that had been made...

"Chairman, Members of Council, Staff and members of the public, may I formally present this year’s budget for 2009-2010.

Yet again this year, we have faced a very challenging budget round, perhaps the most demanding yet.

Sedgemoor District Council is not immune to the impacts and pressures of the recession and, like so many of our residents, have faced significant price increases not least of which are massive increases in energy costs over the past year. For that reason, I am extremely pleased to be able to put before you a balanced budget that continues delivery of key services and expansion in a number of other service areas.

And I am pleased to say we are on target to meet the national efficiency targets as approved within the Local Area Agreement to which we are a partner.

As you are aware, the funding gap this year was in excess of 1.2 million pounds; and having made significant savings 12 months ago, we had even less scope to identify further reductions. Many of our neighbouring authorities are going through the pain this year that we tackled last year.

In balancing this Council's budget for next year, we have identified savings and efficiencies of over £1.4 million. These savings equate to 6.7% of our annual budget, and have allowed us to maintain services in the face of the current economic climate and lower-than-inflation government funding.

Government grant only increased by 1.87% and continues to fall woefully below what is needed to deliver services that we are required to deliver by nationally set polices and targets and to what we aspire to locally. Sadly as each year passes, we have less freedom to concentrate on our own local priorities and are further constrained by national directives.

What local residents want from the Council is important to us and in October last year, we sent out 4000 survey forms to a random sample of the population of the district. The survey asked 12 questions, seeking views on how the budget should be spent and which areas are priorities. The results from this survey, as well as feedback from public sessions informed our decision-making in setting today’s budget.

For a number of years, we have sought to direct Council’s resources towards our key priorities of Housing, Efficiency, Regeneration and the Environment.

This year we have linked these key priorities to three thematic outcomes as detailed in the emerging Corporate Strategy:

These are –

· Economic Growth and Regeneration

· Health and Wellbeing and

· A Clean and Sustainable Environment.

Within our budget thinking, we have not only brought in a balanced budget for this year, but have directed our resources towards investing in the future. The Local Development Framework will shape our district for the next generation, so it is imperative we get it right at the beginning. This process takes time and money.

Traditionally, economic growth and regeneration within the District has been about enhancement schemes and practical support for the business sector. But it is the longer-term goals that we seek to achieve.

A strong economy, higher educational attainment, better-quality and better-paid jobs will improve the quality of life for our residents. To achieve this, a robust Local Development Framework, underpinned by the Economic Development Strategy will set the cornerstone for the future. I am pleased that Full Council has agreed the Economic Strategy - the challenging part is the funding needed to implement that strategy, so that is why we are investing an extra £230,000 in these areas.

In the shorter term, we are committing to significant capital funding investment in the Bridgwater Town Hall Island Site, both to save a much-loved but crumbling building and to create a vibrant community and cultural space. This multi-million pound project is coupled with our aim to develop a new swimming pool for the District. Both of these major schemes are to be delivered within the next three years. Investment indeed where it counts – for our residents.

When we asked our residents what their priorities were, yet again clean streets and a better environment featured highly. For that reason, we have invested a further £150,000 this year into improving the cleanliness and maintenance of the district; both to make it a more pleasant place in which to live but also with the intention of supporting inwards investment and tourism. We are grateful to the contributions from other town Councils in supporting these aspirations which, as an example, has allowed for an additional £70,000 to be invested into cleaning and maintaining the tourist area in Burnham-on-Sea.

Within the economic climate as it is today, we must protect those services which support the needs of the most vulnerable within our communities. Families facing job losses; the struggle to find or maintain their home or the burden of increased debt. For this reason, I am very pleased that we have increased resources in a number of key services such as housing benefits and also established a ‘Credit Crunch’ fund, of over £100,000 to provide additional targeted support where it is most needed. Criteria for this fund are being worked up and members will be informed shortly on how these monies can be accessed and put to good use.

When we set the budget, we must do so by looking beyond a single year to make sure we have resources to meet future challenges. We have done this by

· reducing expenditure wherever possible,

· maximising existing and new income streams and

· keeping our balances at a level appropriate to a council of our size.

And we have worked to establish sustainable partnerships to deliver services which we are no longer financially equipped to deliver ourselves. We are grateful to those partners for working with us to protect valued service delivery to the public.

Finally to the Council Tax. Clearly we would prefer no rise at all; however this would only serve to put services at risk in the future.

For many years, we have kept our portion of the council tax as low as possible, whilst maintaining high-quality services. This Council is proud of that record. Pound for pound, we are still the lowest Band D equivalent across the County. We have managed to contain increases for the coming year to only 4.5% (under the 5% capping limit) rising from £121.38 to £126.84 or 11p a week.

Chairman, Members of Council this concludes my budget proposals, which I commend to you for the coming year."

 




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