NHDC budget: Where is our district council spending money?

PUBLISHED: 11:58 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 11:58 20 February 2019

North Herts District Council offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth. Picture: North Herts District Council

North Herts District Council offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth. Picture: North Herts District Council

Archant

North Herts District Council has agreed its 2019/2020 budget at a full council meeting, which includes a freeze on parking tariffs and an additional £1 million on top of the original forecast.

The annual budget meeting is when NHDC reviews where it will make savings and spend money for the next year and beyond.

The budget took into account the government’s recent confirmation that a negative revenue support grant will now not be applied for 2019/20, which will provide NHDC with an additional £1 million compared to what was forecast and planned for. This is only expected for one year.

RSG is the sum of money a council receives directly from central government in accordance with a complex funding formula.

In the case of NHDC, the planned reduction in RSG was greater than the RSG itself. This is known as negative RSG and would have required the council to hand over more business rates revenues to central government. It will not now need to do so in 2019/20.

Councillors agreed that this additional available budget would be used to help deliver additional investments in North Herts.

This included £15,000 on electrical vehicle charging points, and £50,000 towards setting up a platform for public transport users – the North Hertfordshire Transport Users Forum – following extensive issues faced by rail users last year.

Hitchin Highbury Liberal Democrat councillor Sam Collins said: “I’m especially happy to see the provision for electric car charging included in the budget, this is something I have been pushing for from even before I was elected in May.

“I would like to thank both the Labour and Conservative groups for supporting this even though I’m a new councillor, and getting it into the budget.”

It also awarded one-off grants of £25,000 to the North Hertfordshire Minority Ethnic Forum, £50,000 to Citizens Advice North Herts and £20,000 for Age UK Hertfordshire.

Councillor Julian Cunningham, executive member for finance at the Conservative-controlled council, said: “We are pleased to see the government has decided to not bring in the planned reduction in council funding through ‘negative RSG’ in 2019/20.

“This means we can maintain services and protect our reserves while balancing the books.

“It also means we can invest in projects which will benefit our residents through providing vital funding to community groups and enabling us to improve parking and transport across the district.”

This year’s total net reduction from new efficiency proposals is £171,000.

To make these savings, the council plans to cut planning advertising expenditure by £5,000, and introduce a rolling reduction in area committee grant budgets, equivalent to 20 per cent of annual provision.

NHDC Labour group’s spokesman for finance, Councillor Ian Albert, told this newspaper: “The money in this budget, for Age UK and Citizens’ Advice is welcome, however along with that came cuts to the area committee grant funds which are so important in helping smaller, local community groups.

“We tried to save those budgets, because such organisations are part of our communities and do a lot of good in our neighbourhoods.

“It was disappointing to hear Councillor Cunningham say in his speech that they’ll be making ‘some limited investments in supporting our communities’.

“It’s never been more important that local people’s voices were central to NHDC’s decision making, sadly this budget once again shows a failure to listen.”

New revenue pressures and investment proposals will account for £352,000 of the council’s additional expenditure, including £150,000 pumped into the Local Plan funding.

According to the council, “this bid focuses on the work that will need to be undertaken post-adoption, such as the review of strategies and the undertaking of studies. This bid might be subject to change following the inspector’s interim report”.

The decision to retain the 2018/2019 parking tariff structure and to freeze prices for car park season tickets and residents’ parking permits will see an income reduction of £100,000.

Should the number of households paying for the controversial brown bin waste collection charge – introduced in May last year – continue at its current rate of 50 per cent, the council will see an additional income of £235,000, matching the 2018/2019 revenue.

The number of households joining the scheme during the second quarter of last year boosted income by a further £61,000.

NHDC also plan to spend £10,000 on replacing trees which died during the summer of 2018.

The total savings made by the council since the 2018/2019 budget was agreed in February last year, based on additional income and reduced expenditure, has been £603,000.

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