Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins has his say on local government funding

Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins shares his views in his weekly Comet column.

Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins shares his views in his weekly Comet column. - Credit: Archant

The Comet’s front page report last week on the declining fortunes of North Herts District Council once again highlights the deficiencies in funding local government – not just in our area but nationally.

A recent letter to the national press by the deputy leader of Pendle Borough Council in the Lancashire Pennines pointed out that their spending ability is being slashed – a net budget of about £14 million (similar to North Herts) faces another £5 million of cuts over the next three years.

The councillor notes that staff and hours have been drastically cut, office buildings refinanced and lots of local services handed over to town and parish councils and local groups including community centres, town halls, children’s play areas, bus shelters, town centre CCTV systems, roadside seats, Christmas lights, local events – and now, under consideration, local parks and areas of amenity land. Sound familiar?

I’m told that the total North Herts District Council budget these days is less than that of the Heritage Foundation in Letchworth – which in itself exacerbates the disparity in levels of investment in the public realm between the towns.

Back in March, the Hitchin Committee expressed concerns at the proposal to close a number of play areas across the town, and so set up a cross-party enquiry to seek alternatives as there is little hope of Hitchin councillors being able to fund it themselves.

This will report back to the meeting on September 5.

The Hitchin committee budget has been cut back itself this year to a little over £30,000 for the whole town for the whole year – that’s about £1 per head of the population. What would you like to spend your quid on?

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Whereas in many areas playgrounds would be in the remit of town or parish councils, there seems as yet no means by which this council can ensure services are provided in unparished areas, such as Hitchin, which are provided by parish or town councils elsewhere.

So it brings us back to structure. If district councils have been stripped down to basic services – street sweeping, litter collection, refuse collection and recycling, housing, planning and environmental health – is there an economy of scale that would allow delivery of essential services across a larger area, thus negating the need for 10 districts in Hertfordshire with all the attendant overheads?

The ‘local’ element of play areas, allotments, street furniture, day-to-day maintenance and other discretionary items should then be left to a body whose roots are closer to the community – someone suggested a Residents’ Improvement District to complement our successful Business Improvement District!

Anyway, food for thought.

In the meantime, if you wish to raise any matter with your local councillors, there is a councillors’ surgery on the Market Place this Saturday between 10.30am and 12 noon. No appointment necessary, just turn up.

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