Cabinet Budget 07/08
In 'Estimating for 2007/08' we highlighted the Commissar's provisional plans for next year's budget - the foundation of everything to be done from April 2007 to March 2008. It is important, and one of the few things the Leader and Cabinet must recommend to the full Council. They are not allowed to approve it themselves.
counterbalance went to listen to the Politburo Cabinet debate.
Shortly before the meeting started, the door to an ante-room opened and the Politburo trouped in. It looked as though the real decisions had already been made, and we would only hear the result.
Anyway, the most significant news was that the 'Equitable Taxation' scheme we have railed against in these pages has been dropped - at least for this year, and possibly for good.
Regulars will remember that we predicted this in 'Even More Equitable Taxation' last October.
The pressure from some parish councils, individuals, ourselves, and in no small way, the St Anne's on the Sea Town Council - whose clear and determined refusal to take part probably did more to scupper the scheme than anything else, has saved us from the Commissar's biggest con trick yet.
This divisive double taxation scheme would have seen St Anne's and Lytham paying a 9% increase in Fylde's Council Tax, with people in Kirkham paying 14% more and in Elswick 22% more.
We are delighted to be able to announce its demise.
So what other decisions were made at the Politburo? Which parts of the planned budget were approved, and which were changed?
Well, you remember they wanted to spend £841k more than they could raise in taxes (if not, the details are all in 'Estimating for 2007/08'), so something had to give.
Some other good news was
that they had received an unexpected £60k from the bus company as a "rebate"
How come?, we hear you ask.
Well, you'll remember that in
'Budget Busting Bus Blues' we suggested Fylde had overpaid up to £175k to Lancashire bus companies because it didn't have arrangements to properly check the OAP travel claims submitted by the bus companies. We alleged bus companies might have over-claimed around 20% of all journeys based on the experience of our OAP bus-enthusiast friend who is into fare stages and collects bus tickets for fun.
Well, according to the Commissar, the bus companies in Lancashire made an EXTRA £1.8 million this year.
That's £1.8 million over and above the amount the bus companies themselves thought the extra travel would generate for them. They have made such an obscene surplus they couldn't for shame keep it all, and have thrown some of it back to the Councils from whom they took it. And Fylde got £60,000
We told you the Commissar wasn't keeping a proper track of the spending back in October, now we have been proved right. He doesn't even know if the 'rebate' he has been given is too big or too small. He's not a clue.
He describes it like this:
"On Monday I attended the Lancashire Leader and Chief Executives meeting hosted in Lancaster Town Hall. At this meeting we discussed the challenges we were all facing with funding for concessionary bus travel. It was reported that the bus companies had had a bumper years and that the 14 Councils of Lancashire could receive a share of the £1.8. million pound over target receipts received. This would be approximately £60,000 for Fylde Council. "
So the Politburo noted they had an extra £60k to go at.
Ignoring this for the moment, they put a mix of service cuts and increased charges in place to reduce the revenue spending by £841k
Chief amongst the changes made by the Politburo were:
Service Reductions (savings)
- Leave open vacant pest control officer post (20k)
- Remove environmental monitoring budget (5k)
- Reduction in Member training (3k)
- Remove post of student Environmental Health Officer (5k)
- Reduce general trainee budget by 30% (10k)
- Illuminated Christmas Trees (10k)
- Leave open Conservation Officer vacancy (22k)
- Reduce civil contingencies budget (5k)
- Reduction in deputy mayor expenses (2k)
- Reduce theft insurance (6k)
- Reduce training budgets by 50% (14k)
- Reduce recruitment / selection budgets (5k)
- Reduction in copying costs (2k)
- Cancel subscriptions Northwest Arts Board (5k)
- Cancel subscriptions Northwest e-gov group (2k)
Assumed extra income (income)
- Review of reserves (Taking cash from savings) (150k)
- Review cemetery charges (30k)
- Review car park charges (25k)
- Additional target income from trading company (100k)
- Licensing - increased income (25k)
- Increased sandwinning income (54k)
- Charging for Permitted Development enquiries (20k)
- Increased income from swimming lessons (24k)
- Increased leisure fees (10k)
- Sponsorship income (30k)
- Recharge election costs to Parishes (40k)
- Fully recoup LCC election costs (13k)
- Extension of vehicle lease periods (43k)
- Efficiencies in alcohol / taxi licensing budgets (11k)
- Smokefree premises grant (10k)
These (and a few other minor ones) together will save about £840k
Estimating income is always risky, because customer resistance has a habit of screwing up your projections, and we're not sure he's got it right here.
But even assuming he has, instead of using the £60k refund to offset some of the service cuts above, he looked down the list of extra things they might like to do, and came up with:
- 25k to the Fylde Community Projects Fund.
- 10k for Information, Communication Continuity. Disaster recovery etc.
- 8k for the removal of Spartina Grass from the Amenity Beach.
- 8.5k for new Highway and Park trees.
- 3k for the Borough's entry to Nations in Bloom.
- 4k for low level security lighting on Fairhaven Lake.
- 1.5k to kick start a review of on street car parking restrictions in St Anne's town centre.
It seemed odd to us that giving money to the Community Projects Fund, whilst at the same time putting up parking charges and swimming charges and crematorium charges, but hey, this is election year, and being able to say local groups could benefit from giveaways could boost the electoral prospects of the present administration.
Typically the budget before an election can be expected to spread goodies around, especially in wards where you might feel under threat.
But there are a few real oddities in this list above.
Firstly, the main oddment is the wholly stupid idea that they can prevent Spartina grass spreading onto St Anne's Beach.
Far cleverer councillors than the Commissar looked at this 20 years ago and tried to hold it at Lytham. It took less than two years to realise this was impossible.
They changed tack, introduced "The Fylde Countryside" and ecological tourism into the tourism marketing mix and learned to live with it.
Solving the problem by treating the symptom (Spartina) without fixing the cause (deposition of silt amongst the sand grains on a beach already composed of fine sand), is impossible.
Trying to solve the silt problem without multi million pound capital spending is hopeless unless you think in a geological (rather than a human) timescale. He might just as well throw the £8,000 into the sea.
He can't stop it any more than he can stop the tide coming in.
But Commissar Canute says "The Council is going to hold the line just before the Beach Terrace cafe. The loss of the beach at St Anne's would be a disaster".
We'll remind him of this promise later.
The real disaster is his financial incompetence, and the resplendent arrogance of his ignorance on the matter. He only needs to ask former councillors from his own party, but he's unlikely to doubt his own omnipotence, so this money will be wasted.
Secondly, did you spot the new plan for low level lighting at Fairhaven Lake?
Presumably "low level" means footpath marker lighting rather than just dim lighting. Now why would that be needed? People aren't queuing up to walk round in the dark are they?
We heard the commissar mutter something about protecting lone females, but we really can't think that many lone women want or need to walk round Fairhaven Lake in the dark.
Unless, of course, there is something to attract them there at night. Given the two bits of information we have recently highlighted - namely the "commerce led" review of facilities at the lake, and the licence that will allow entertainment to be approved by a cabinet member, maybe there is something in the wind.
A friend of counterbalance who walks round the lake daily, believes that the former putting green near the St Pauls Avenue car park (which has recently been re-contoured), would make quite a useful outdoor entertainments venue for, say, concerts of various types.
The logic we're using here might be 2+2 = 5, but sometimes the piecing together of snippets reveals an overall picture. We'll keep an eye on that one.
Finally there's the £1.5k to 'kickstart' a
"review of on street car parking restrictions in St Anne's town centre". The proposal here was originally for a £22,000 independent MORI type survey which (apparently) is "essential" before even considering changing the parking from one hour to two hours.
Now, quite apart from the ridiculous cost of £22k for a survey of opinions, why on earth the people we elect are incapable of using their own eyes and ears to form a view of what is needed and to act on that view, is entirely beyond us.
No doubt the Commissar will (rightly) say that on-street parking is the responsibility of LCC, but where are the St Anne's (and Fylde) County Councillors hiding? and why isn't the Commissar fulminating and railing at full volume against the stupidity and intransigence of the County Council who are demanding the opinion survey if that is the case.
The £1.5k only went in at all as an afterthought (although it was skillfully nicked by Roger Small who had added the sums up faster than anyone else and realised they had spent £58.5k of the £60k before making a grab for the
When (supposedly) £22k is needed, it's not easy to see how just £1.5k will get very far, but we wait in hope.
After dealing with revenue spending, they went on to look at capital schemes.
Here there was a glimmer of sense, and again it was Roger Small who led the move.
Fylde doesn't get a lot of capital spending, and the government cajoles them to spend it in particular ways. (Why they should listen more to Government than to the people that elect them is a bit of a mystery, but there we are).
Cllr Small worked out that over 90% of the whole of Fylde's capital budget was planned to be spent on Disabled Facilities Grants.
Now, no-one wants to see anyone in real need deprived of such facilities, but according to one of the Politburo stalwarts, we're not talking means tested support here, we're potentially talking anything upward of double glazing for people that can afford to pay for it.
So we agree with his plan to reduce this spending by £100k. Even so, it still leaves something in the order of £500k in place for the grants.
After this decision, we had the fun of what to do with the £100k that had been 'saved.'
There was (conveniently) a list of priorities to be considered if cash could have been found, so we turned our attention to this and the Commissar worked his way down the list adding in his pet schemes.
In came 2 CCTV cameras, youth facilities, Lytham cenotaph refurbishment, and some work to play areas in parishes where, according to some disgruntled independent councillors, the Commissar stood a chance of getting one of his own candidates elected.
That might have been sour grapes of course, but the Politburo did manage to stop the list just before reaching anything in Elswick or Kirkham where the natives have been so hostile to his 'equitable taxation' con.
So there we are, that's the current state of play until the Council meeting considers it. We'll let you know how that goes too.
Dated: 23 February 2007