North Herts council’s �9m cuts get the go-ahead

MILLIONS of pounds worth of cuts were agreed by North Herts District Council (NHDC) last night (Thursday) as the budget was set for 2011-2012.

Conservative councillors pushed through controversial cuts totalling almost �2m for this year at the full council meeting, in a budget which will reduce funding for youth services, town centre partnerships, voluntary and community groups.

There will also be reduced maintenance for town centres, play areas, trees and grass cutting, with total cuts expected to reach almost �9m over the next four years.

North Herts taxpayers will be faced with increased charges for interment of ashes and burials, leisure facilities, resident parking permits and car park season tickets, and the introduction of charges for parking at appropriate car parks during evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays.

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Cllr Lynda Needham, leader of the council, said: “Given that the council has already identified over �6.8m of savings over the last six years - including �1.3m in 2010-11 alone - in the drive to become more efficient and enable investment priorities, it was clear that to achieve significant further savings over the coming years was not going to be easy, and would involve some tough decisions.

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“Further change is inevitable and so we have continued to examine how we can work more efficiently or in different ways, such as sharing services with other authorities or organisations.”

A Tory amendment to grant funding reductions to local community and voluntary organisation was passed so that cuts to overall funding will be administered at a rate of 7.1 per cent per annum over four years, instead of being front-loaded.

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Another Conservative amendment to stagger the phasing out of town centre partnership funding in stages - with Hitchin funding to stop this year, Letchworth GC in 2013 and Baldock in 2017 - was also carried by council members.

But proposals by Liberal Democrat councillors to save services for young people, freeze increases in residents parking costs and protect both public toilets and recycling facilities were blocked.

“Whilst the council clearly needs to save money the Conservatives have chosen the wrong targets,” said Cllr Steve Jarvis, Liberal Democrat leader.

“They could have cut areas such as surveys, courier services, the council’s magazine and keeping empty office buildings where savings could better be made without affecting local people.”

The Lib Dem proposals would have delivered an additional �80,000 of savings over the next two years, whilst putting an extra �110,000 into services for local people.

Labour proposals to protect funding for voluntary and community organisations, youth funding, and maintenance of play areas and town centres by using money from total balances were also blocked by the Conservatives.

Cllr David Kearns, who was stand-in Labour leader for the meeting, said: “I’ve not known cuts in actual financial terms as savage as this. It is too far and too fast and there needs to be a re-think.”

Council Tax will be frozen for 2011-2012, which will qualify NHDC for extra funding from the Coalition Government following an announcement on Wednesday.

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