North Herts District Council spending funds could be wiped out in five years

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum

Hitchin Town Hall and Museum - Credit: Archant

A Comet investigation has revealed money sitting in North Herts District Council bank accounts has fallen by £15 million over the last four years – with the total expected to be almost wiped out over the next five years.

A study into the council’s capital spending account – the money used for buying and improving land and buildings – has seen the total fall from £35.6m at the start of the financial year to £19.9m by the end of March 2017.

The council has also admitted the figure will be significantly depleted in the years to come, citing significant reductions in revenue funding from central government as the cause.

The Comet can reveal apart from the £4,109,000 already confirmed as spent on the Hitchin Town Hall and district museum – with the prospect of more to come before the museum at 14/15 Brand Street opens – the council has also spent £2,008,400 on Hitchin Swimming Centre.

The council also paid out £680,100 on new purple bins, at a time when the authority is proposing to levy a fee of up to £70 per year on every household across the district on brown bin collections.

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It has reduced its capital account to the tune of £3,560,000 over the last five years on ‘other projects’ – including £38,200 on demolishing Bancroft tennis courts.

The figures also show that £579,500 was spent on ‘renovating play areas’ over the last five years, despite plans in place to shut 13 separate children’s playgrounds in and around Hitchin unless others can fund them.

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The council has spent a further £3,668,000 acquiring its offices in Letchworth.

It is forecast the council will need to reduce its expenditure or generate additional income of £4.2 million per year by 2021/22, meaning there is no respite in sight given the scale of the budget savings needed to be found.

A council spokeswoman confirmed that over the next five years, the current forecast is that “most of the remaining balance of £19.9m will have been used”.

Official council strategy is to focus on generating income from commercial activities, however expected funds that would have been generated by the museum have been lost due to the fact it is still not open nearly a year after its original opening date.

Councillor Julian Cunningham, the council’s executive member for finance, said: “The council received significant capital funds when we sold our housing stock in 2003, however this was a one-off and therefore the balance has been reducing over time. We have invested our capital funding in a number of projects in recent years which have greatly benefited residents, including investing in a new studio and changing village at Hitchin Swimming Centre and improving residents’ opportunity to recycle.

“The council is faced with ongoing significant reductions in the money we receive from government and therefore we will continue to invest capital resources to generate revenue income or reduce costs, to ensure we can continue to provide high quality services to residents.”

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