A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.

I stop short of adding anything about prosperity for clearly we are going to start paying very dearly for the greedy mistakes of the relatively small handful of financiers.

Peter Pan is playing to packed theatres around the country, and deservedly so. It is an innocent and entertaining story with wide appeal. Peter Pan council budgets on the other hand are neither innocent nor entertaining. Deceitful and demeaning are more accurately their principal characteristics.

The City Council’s Tory Leader and his Cabinet have put out a Budget Consultation Pack devoid of political leadership and economic reality. There is also a marked absence of commonsense on a number of the proposed cuts.

Under the guise of consultation the Leader and Cabinet have abdicated responsibility for preparing a framework for the Budget, preferring to leave it to emerge from the consultation process! Leader Cllr Ross Irving has been around long enough to know jolly well that budgets are not stitched up patchworks from a range of consultations!

Some basic facts:

The government’s grant confirmed: £127.293m. If there is no increase in Council Tax it will yield the same as the current year: £79.008m. Thus, total income: £206.301m

But,  

Expenditure based on the current year would be £222.811m so CUTS of £12.397m have been proposed.

That would reduce the bill to £210.414m, Still MORE than the projected income so what to do? INCREASE Council Tax or more CUTS?

Answer, more cuts via Voluntary Redundancies plannedto save £4.300m. That reduces the bill to £206.114m., so hey presto, income balances expenditure. Job done and no increased Council Tax!

Before we get over-excited at the seemingly harmless balancing act don’t let’s forget that a balanced budget was claimed to be on the table this time last year. Apart from the fact that a few officers “forgot” to implement the necessary increased charges there’s more than a hint that the “balanced budget” was based on a wing and a prayer. So, no change there.

Of the 128 proposed cuts, some are plainly unachievable. Review of Community Halls (£50,000). This is a long-running saga and most unlikely to be sorted in the short term. Reduction in opening times snd reduced menu choice at the three City-run cafes (£77,000) Daft idea considering thousands of visitors will be pouring in to see the Gold Hoard at the Museum. Publishing the Council’s Our City paper monthly instead of alternate months (£147,000). Highly contentious issue and unlikely to get approval.   

Removal of 14 posts within Chief Executive’s directorate, including that of the assistant chief executive would save nearly £500,000! This is an easy one, however: they’re all vacant anyway!

Review of management of Integrated Youth Support Services (£400,000) That’s a big chunk of saving but would anyone be left to run the integrated youth services?

Assess how to improve the viability of Stanley Head Outdoor Centre (£80,000) Viability? Or profitability? This is well used, popular centre for thousands of City school children every year.

Review of gritting service (£100,000) “There may be an impact on users of the road network during adverse weather conditions.” Really?

Considering the absolute debacle this year over car parking income some brave soul has dared to suggest that £253,000 could be saved by re-introducing charges for evening parking (if they remember to actually do it!) and to stop the mamby-pamby 10 minute period of grace for cars with expired tickets and the 5 minutes grace for those without tickets. That should be a number one hit  with the beleaguered motorists!

Transfer City Farm to a Trust. (£80,000) Is that it? Which Trust? So a trust will take it on without any City Council funding?

Apart from the easy half a million pounds hit (the 14 vacant posts) you can see how difficult it is to confidently notch up another £1m. Let’s not forget, £12m cuts are planned. Next time, why no increase in Council Tax will further impoverish the City.

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