Big Budget Meeting Next Week.

The District Council has a big budget next Tuesday 9th February, at 7:30. We received the agenda today, so there’s a lot of reading to do, and we will write in more detail later. But two things immediately stand out in the proposals from the Conservative administration:

  • District Council Tax is proposed to rise by 1.93%
  • It is proposed that some car park charges will rise. For example the 1/2 hour charge in the main shopping car parks will rise from 50p to 60p, and the 1 hour charge from £1.00 to £1.20. Saturday afternoons will stay free. However charges will continue in weekday evenings until 9 pm (instead of 7 pm at present). This could have an impact on restaurants and take-aways…
  • As we said above, we will write more late. George Osbourne is giving councils a very hard time at the moment…

    Timid? Or Just Complaining Quietly?

    Liberal England reports here from Leicestershire:

    Leicestershire’s Conservative MPs were busy retweeting this photograph last week.

    It shows them and the Conservative leader of the county council Nick Rushton meeting the local government minister Marcus Jones to press the case for more generous funding for Leicestershire.

    The Leicester Mercury quoted Sir Edward Garnier, MP for Harborough:

    “The difficult financial situation for Leicestershire County Council means that unless we get an improved funding arrangement, the services that vulnerable people need the most will have to be cut. I know the Minister fully understands the case we made and took into account our concerns as Leicestershire MPs and those of Coun Rushton. We will wait to see what transpires over the next few weeks.”

    I would love to see a more generous settlement for Leicestershire, particularly if Rushton is right to say that we are the lowest funded county council.

    But we are not the only Tory-run county asking for more.

    Over to the Shropshire Star and the new leader of the council there:

    Shropshire Council leaders today called for Government help to stave off the impact of multi-million pound budget cuts.

    Council leader Malcolm Pate and the authority’s chief executive Clive Wright warned that without assistance they face a considerable reduction in the county’s services.

    They have urged either an increase in the amount they can raise in council tax or an alteration of the formula by which councils receive central Government funding.

    The formula cannot be unfair to everybody, so It looks as though Conservatives are really complaining that central government funding is not generous enough. Even David Cameron has been at it.

    And they are right. It is not just the slightly quaint things this blog has a weakness for that will suffer – rural bus services, branch libraries – but central services like adult social care.

    If there is a country vs court rebellion in the Conservative party, with their council leaders rebelling against the cuts they are being compelled to implement, all Liberal Democrats should welcome it.

    Government cuts are biting – biting hard. And residents in Rochford shouldn’t be surprised if the District Council cut back on services, increased charges, and maybe introduced new charges because we are getting less money from central government. We have some talented council officers (both new ones and long-serving ones) who are coming up up with some rational, innovative ways to gain more income and keep a stable long-term budget. But apparently there’s no appetite at all for the Conservative councillors to complain to their party colleagues in parliament that they have got things wrong. One of us said to a thoughtful Tory councillor yesterday “George Osbourne is throwing local Tories to the lions like the Generals did to the troops in World War One”and the councillor didn’t disagree.

    Back when the Council was Lib Dem controlled, we faced a new government policy that would cost us £112,000 in extra housing costs. Our response was to send an all-party delegation, led by Lib Dem Sylvia Lemon to meet with the relevant minister. And we got the cost removed from us.

    Meanwhile, in other news, , the Government seems more generous to Google than with councils.

    Cllr Steptoe’s Decisions On Council Car Parks

    Mike Steptoe is the affable Tory councillor for Barling and Sutton, and is the cabinet member for “Enterprise”. Which means he’s the person who makes decisions about whether to have free car parking in council car parks at Xmas, and whether to charge the NHS for using car parking spaces for breast screening or other health checks.

    He’s just made the following decisions – you can download the document here.

    First of all, there’s going to be the usual free parking in council car parks on Saturdays mornings in December before Christmas – the 5th, 12th and 19th. However Cllr Steptoe turned down the idea of boosting trade for the sales period by having an extra free Saturday morning after Christmas.

    Secondly, there is the controversial question of whether to charge the NHS for having a breast cancer screening service in one of our car parks. The council currently charges the NHS at a reduced rate – £1066 for a four month period. The new policy is to give a fixed 75% reduction for any organisation serving the public. On this basis the NHS would pay £909 for four months.

    The amounts of money are not huge, and some people will say this is a reasonable compromise. Others will say that the breast screening service is coming to benefit our residents and shouldnt be charged at all. As a comparison, if you were an employer and a cancer screening service were offering to come to your premises free of charge and screen your employees, would you charge them for taking up space in your company car park?

    Important Stuff:Councils To Keep All Their Business Rates

    At the moment councils collect council tax and business rates. Broadly speaking, councils keep the council tax but pass the business rates back to Central Government. Central government then gives some of that back to councils as government grants

    George Osbourne has announced today that in the future councils will be allowed to keep all business rates from their area. This is going to be a massive change for councils and gives us lots to think about.

    Here’s a few early thoughts:

  • This obviously gives councils great incentives to attract businesses to their areas
  • It’s not clear yet how the money will be shared out between County Councils and District Councils. Will Parish councils get anything?
  • It will encourage councils to work harder to promote their town centres – and might discourage councils from increasing car parking charges
  • It all fits in with the recent discussions about having a combined Essex Authority to attract business and infrastructure. If this goes ahead, it will encourage Essex Councils to pool business rates and to work together – so that if there is a new business park in Essex, all councils might benefit?
  • Business rates do hit some small businesses very hard but rents can hit them very high as well!
  • Mammogram from Wikipedia. The breast on the left is healthy, the one on the right is cancerous

    Review Committee Asks Cllr Steptoe To Re-Think On Breast Cancer Screening Charges

    The Review Committee started the new civic year under its new chairman, Cllr Jerry Gibson. It was a good natured , non-party-political meeting.

    The most significant item was a call-in by Cllr Michael Hoy regarding a decision by Cllr Mike Steptoe on charging for commercial use of council car parks. Councillors weren’t concerned so much about the commercial side but by the fact that RDC charges the NHS for having its mobile breast screening unit in our car parks at various times. This is done at a reduced rate , and the amount involved was fairly small – about £2,200 per year. However most councillors had misgivings about the moral principle of this.

    In the end the committee referred the issue back to Cllr Steptoe, both on the moral ground, and because the report from officers wasn’t very clear. Mike Steptoe now has the final say. He was at the meeting, and listened very carefully. A lot of people will be hoping he changes his mind on this.

    Budget Meeting On Tuesday Night…

    The District Council have their budget meeting at 7:30 on Tuesday night, it is open to the public (although there is no public speaking).
    You can find the agenda here.

    Items on the agenda :

    Medium Term Financial Strategy 2015/16 – 2018/19 This includes setting the level of District Council tax for next year, and most council fees and charges.

    New Council Ward Boundaries – report on the second stage consultation response to the Boundary Commission on new Council ward boundaries.

    Allocation of Seats on Committees- report on the allocation of seats to Committees following Toby Mountain, Phil Capon and Tracy Capon joining the Rochford Residents Group.

    Help From The Council- And Some More Money Is Still Available For Voluntary Organisations…..

    From the Echo:

    GRATEFUL volunteers say their free advice service has been saved from closure after it was handed vital funding by their council.Rochford and Rayleigh Citizens Advice Bureau was given £67,000 by Rochford District Council. The council is giving more than £100,000 to voluntary groups across south Essex.
    The CAB helps more than 3,000 people a year. Sue Murray, chief executive of Rochford and Rayleigh CAB, said: “This money will enable us to provide a service. Without that funding and the support of the council, and they really do support us, we wouldn’t be able to provide any advice.”
    Rayleigh, Rochford and District Association for Voluntary Service has been awarded £15,000. June Lumley, its chairman, said: “This grant will allow us to continue to support the hundreds of local volunteers and organisations which make such a difference on a daily basis.”—–
    The funding will help support nine projects in the Rochford district, including buying equipment for disability sports sessions run from Stambridge Memorial Hall.
    Rayleigh Age Concern will get some help towards buying a new boiler, while Fairview pre-school, in Rayleigh, will be given cash for a storage shed.
    Local Scout and Cub groups will be able to improve their Scout Huts, refurbish toilets, buy a new trailer and waterproof their tents, and Rankins Cricket Club will be buying a new sightscreen.
    More than £7,000 was left unallocated and the council is inviting applications for the remaining funding.
    Jo McPherson, Rochford District Council’s councillor responsible for the community, said: “These organisations truly make a difference to the lives of residents.”
    If you are a voluntary organisation and would like to apply for funding, contact Andrew Lowing, on 01702 318061 …

    Full Council Next Tuesday Night

    The are two District Council meetings open to the public next week. Both start at 7:30 pm at the Civic Suite (opposite Rayleigh Church). Tuesday night has Full Council, Thursday night has Development Committee.

    Some of the items at Full Council are:

    2 formal questions from Chris Black to Cllr Ian Ward:


    Revised Budget Estimates for the current financial year:



    Adoption of the “Development Management Plan”:
    This is basically a new version of the council’s “Bible” of planning policies. Not the zoning of land for development, but all the other policies. Things like the design of new developments, housing density, infilling of gardens, phone masts, what is allowed in the Green Belt, green tourism, playing pitches and other leisure and recreational uses…. You can download the 50 page document from this page.


    Adoption of the “London Southend Airport and Environs Joint Area Action Plan” :
    This is another weighty document, which you also can download from this page.


    And finally, an important item about restructuring the staff organisation at the District Council:


    In Case Of Fire Or Flood…

    The District Council Executive – the “Cabinet” meets next Wednesday. One of the items they are discussing is removing the council tax discounts that homeowners get for having unoccupied or uninhabitable properties.

    At the moment you pay no council tax for the first month you have a property unoccupied and unfurnished. This free month is going to be abolished.

    You also get a 50 percent discount for the first year you have a property that isnt occupied because it needs , or is undergoing, major repairs or structural works. This discount is also going to be abolished.

    The reasons? Partly to get extra income – about £46000 per year for the district and more for the County. But also to discourage homes from being empty and help them be available for people to live in.

    What we want to highlight here is that if your home is uninhabitable due to a crisis that wasn’t your fault – flooding being the most likely cause- you can apply to the council to be considered for a special exemption. This was agreed by the council earlier this year.

    District Council’s Budget Survey


    The District Council are carrying out a online survey on what local people think should be priorities in the council budget.

    You can complete it here

    It will be interesting to see if anyone mentions the various themes that we have mentioned on onlineFOCUS recently – flooding, the council cabinet, air quality, planning enforcmnt, street lighting…..

    Money , Money , Money


    You can download the District Council’s latest Financial Management Report here.

    Here’s an extract:

    3.1 The results to the end of June 2014 indicate that for the General Fund, the year-end position is forecast to meet the original estimate of £10.39m.

    3.2 The main factors that are reducing the overall net expenditure are:-
    Land Charge income is forecast to be £20,000 above original budget.
    Income from pre application planning advice is expected to exceed original budget by about £6,000

    3.3 The main factors that are increasing the overall net expenditure are:-
    Income from car park pay and display machines is forecast to be about £80,000 below original budget. The original budget included charging for Saturday afternoons, and for the tariff increase to be from April 2014.
    Income generated from the newly installed Columbarium is forecast to be around £17,000 below original budget, due to lack of demand.

    4.1 The Council’s Allocation Plan is subject to a judicial review. Proceedings are drawing to a conclusion. Costs will be incurred on legal fees and a decision that is unfavourable to the Council could incur additional costs depending on any requirements included in the Court’s decision. The estimated cost will be in the region of £40,000 – £75,000. This will be met from earmarked reserves.
    4.2 Following the flooding that happened at the Council’s depot last year, costs for providing temporary accommodation for officers is estimated to be £54,000. This will be covered in the majority by insurance compensation of £49,000. The net cost of £5,000 has been incurred as temporary accommodation was provided longer than needed whilst options for renovating the depot offices are considered.