Postbag: Finances are in a fine mess
I DECIDED to attend Huntingdon District Council s finance scrutiny panel, which should ensure consideration by councillors of cabinet decisions. On the agenda was HDC s budget deficit, of major importance to ratepayers who could find taxes increasing and
I DECIDED to attend Huntingdon District Council's finance scrutiny panel, which should ensure consideration by councillors of cabinet decisions.
On the agenda was HDC's budget deficit, of major importance to ratepayers who could find taxes increasing and service levels dropping.
HDC should set its budget by March 1. With five weeks to go, I assumed the panel would be asking searching questions of officers and cabinet members about their proposals.
But no, Councillor Rogers (cabinet member responsible for the budget) could not say what cabinet had decided. Despite lots of papers highlighting the current situation, cabinet has yet to decide what to do. Cllr Rogers couldn't even guarantee having details available for scrutiny in March. Mind you, they've only known about this for two years, so it's early days yet.
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There was a glimmer of hope as officers identified £450,000 of savings that could be made without affecting services. Unfortunately, they haven't made those savings, only identified them!
Where the axe will fall isn't known, but it's not all bad news as Pathfinder House will be replaced with three buildings costing more than £23million, so staff not made redundant should have really nice offices and room to spare. Council Tax will go up 50 per cent over the next few years, but, hey, that's good news - it would be much more if HDC hadn't been capped.
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Why is this the situation when HDC was bragging about its sound finances only recently? Where has the £80million from the sale of council houses gone? What savings has the £800,000 a year call centre given and why did HDC ignore advice given 10 years ago and let Pathfinder House fall down?
I question whether any offices will be needed after government re-organisation? Labour have indicated that they wish to remove a layer of local government and this could happen as the new buildings are finished, so HDC may not be around to use them.
With the shortage of affordable housing and the terrible plight of families forced to live in B&B, HDC has failed to help these people. If HDC were really concerned about its ratepayers then resources would not go into unnecessary offices, avoiding phone calls and large expense claims for councillors.
The day after the scrutiny panel, these incomprehensible plans were presented to a breakfast meeting of business leaders. I wonder just how much was spent on this free breakfast at The Dolphin for organisations that pay no local income tax to HDC?
JOHN SOUTER, Woodwalton