Budget 2018: ‘Bringing the deficit down is starting to bear fruit’

Julian Cunningham.

Julian Cunningham. - Credit: Archant

‘Bringing the deficit down is now bearing fruit’ – Conservative councillor Julian Cunningham, executive member for finance at North Herts District Council, shares his views on the Budget.

The years of striving to bring the budget deficit down to manageable proportions after the profligate spending and borrowing of the last Labour government are now bearing fruit.

As a consequence the government is able to invest £20 billion in the NHS over the next five years. Equally significant is the in-year increases in funding for Hertfordshire County Council’s social care obligations.

There was also the significant investment in making Universal Credit even more effective in helping the disadvantaged section of our communities. UC has played a very significant part in increasing the number of people in employment to record levels while reducing unemployment to historic lows.

Locally the most significant aspect of the Budget was the proposal to significantly reduce the burden of business rates. This will save many of our businesses up to £8,000 a year. North Herts District Council is committed to support our town centres through mechanisms such as Business Improvement Districts, and other initiatives that are being discussed currently.

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Pressure from this council, amongst others, has led to suggestions that the negative RSG of £1m that we would have had to pay to government in 2019/20 will be removed. These additional funds should be clarified with the announcement of local government funding in early December.

We would all like to be able to spend on the things that we consider important to us. However, without raising taxes, it is almost impossible to find the money that this would take.

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It is the case that funding is tight – but this means that we have to concentrate our resources on those things which deliver maximum impact in our communities. Many councils are moving towards a position where they only deliver core statutory services.

North Herts continues to provide a range of non-statutory services including our leisure facilities that attract millions of visits per year. Unfortunately this has meant some very hard decisions such as closing a small number of little utilised play areas.

This allows us to continue to invest in the remaining larger and better utilised playgrounds. In my own Letchworth ward we have been able to invest £75,000 on the play area on the Jackmans Estate. Similarly we are able to invest £250,000 a year in grants to maintain and improve community buildings across the district.

Of course I would like to be able to invest further amounts, but I am always conscious of the fact that it is public money that I am spending. Decisions are always directed towards the most cost-effective use of the funds that are entrusted to us.

Simply asking for more and bemoaning the facts when we don’t get it is not a sensible way to run any organisation.

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