Council Set to Make Service Cuts
A COUNCIL is to stop providing free black refuse sacks and school milk, and has shelved plans to introduce kerbside plastic recycling. Members of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) met last night (Wednesday) to set the budget for the coming year and to agree
A COUNCIL is to stop providing free black refuse sacks and school milk, and has shelved plans to introduce kerbside plastic recycling.
Members of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) met last night (Wednesday) to set the budget for the coming year and to agree a 3.9 per cent increase in council tax, which equates to a 13.6p a week increase for a Band D property.
An increase of 4.9 per cent had been considered but Sharon Taylor, leader of the council, said: "We don't think that's fair on Stevenage people."
Hertfordshire County Council's increase is 3.49 per cent and Hertfordshire Police's is 4.5 per cent, giving a total average council tax increase of 3.64 per cent for Stevenage residents.
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SBC has made total savings of �2,092,200 through sharpening up business processes, not replacing staff, and reducing services to the tune of �508,380. The council has also taken the decision to freeze council members' allowances.
SBC plans to introduce cardboard and food waste recycling during late summer this year and will then withdraw the supply of black refuse sacks in a bid to encourage people to recycle as much as possible. Withdrawing the provision of sacks will save �61,470. Weekly collections will continue.
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But SBC is putting off its plan to introduce kerbside plastic recycling. Cllr Taylor said: "Unfortunately it's very difficult to find a market for recyclable materials and at the moment we haven't anywhere to take the plastic to. It would cost Stevenage council about �60,000 to bring that collection in. As soon as there is a market we will introduce it. People will still be able to take their plastic to the waste recycling site."
School milk provision will be axed, saving �66,000. SBC said the decision has been taken due to increasing costs and high levels of wastage, with only 40 to 50 per cent drunk. Cllr Taylor said: "Any part of our budget which isn't clearly used must be looked at." Anyone on benefits will continue to receive free school milk for their children, and other parents will have the opportunity to pay about �10 a term for the service.
North Road hostel will close and social housing may be provided on this site.
SBC also plans to build more affordable housing, as well as refurbish the changing rooms at Stevenage Swimming Centre and invest �210,000 in children's play equipment.
Cllr Taylor has confirmed that the �500m redevelopment of Stevenage town centre remains on track, saying: "I think it's a fairly urgent need in the town."
The regeneration of Stevenage Town Centre Gardens is set to start in 2010, Fairlands Valley Park lakes are due to reopen in May following refurbishment, and Bessemer Drive's Business and Technology Centre will re-open in June.
The Government has also supplied �3.5m to begin revitalising neighbourhood shopping centres in Stevenage, beginning with The Oval and Archer Road. The programme will be rolled out over the next eight years.
Summing up, Cllr Taylor said: "We need to do all we can to keep the costs as low as possible for Stevenage people, and not lose sight of some of the things that are really important.
"As long as we keep listening to Stevenage people we will deliver what they want."
Cllr Robin Parker, Lib Dem, said: "The savings of over �2 million could have been made years ago. The Liberal Democrats suggested exactly this as long ago as 1984. We also said then that school milk should be cut, and again we were ignored."
He added: "Further savings could have been made this year. I suggested a 10 per cent cut in all councillors' allowances, rather than just a freeze. This would have saved an additional �50,000 a year.