District council sets out plan to find £3.6million of savings

Clive Mason, Head of Services, at Huntingdonshire District Council,

Clive Mason, Head of Services, at Huntingdonshire District Council, - Credit: Archant

Another £3.6m will have to be saved from Huntingdonshire District Council’s budget as a council official has revealed to The Hunts Post that “we all have to bear the burden”.

The revelation comes as the head of service for the district council, Clive Mason, anticipates a reduction in government funding following plans made to claw back the cash till 2021 to ensure the books are balanced.

In a meeting with The Hunts Post Mr Mason said: “We’ve got it pretty well under control, we have a pretty sound budget. Now we are completely transparent, everybody can look at how the pounds are being spent.”

It is predicted that the council’s budget will need to be reduced from £19.9 million to £13.8 million in the next five years with the reduction of central government funding.

“There are big options that we could do to save money like increase council tax but this is something for members to talk about in due course,” added Mr Mason.

Sharing services such as ICT, legal and building control with Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council is one approach of its savings proposals.

But Mr Mason hasn’t ruled out that more services will be joined in the future including grant procurement.

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“It is being discussed at this point but it is going to be an incremental process. Some will fall more easily into a shared service approach,” added Mr Mason.

The council will also increase its infrastructure strategy, which has so far spent some £20 million on a portfolio of properties, and Mr Mason said this strategy was key to bridging the shortfall should Government funding disappear by 2021.

“We have decided to invest a further £50 million over the next three years in property funds which will be more commercial property and probably in the future we will look at buying domestic properties.

“Some of these will be outside the district council area but these will be bought to generate revenue. We want to be able to generate cash without having to increase council tax.”

Another method to reduce costs is its zero based budgeting system which has seen all departments within the council undergo a cost saving assessment that has assisted in already making savings of £3.8m over the last two years.

“As a council we want to become self sufficient so whether this be more savings from services or from increasing council tax that will be decided in the future,” added Mr Mason.

The council are also looking to not have to rely on government grants including the New Home Bonus.

“We are unsure if we will still get the New Homes Bonus grant from central government by 2020 but if we do then it will be invested in the community.”

Despite a number of in-house savings the council has revealed a change will hit tenants of its estate with additional fees and charges.

In a report to the cabinet it stated that members were advised that: “charges will now be payable by tenants as additional charges in their current terms and conditions. This means additional income rather than a reduction in expenditure.”

This change will provide the council with £77,000 in 2016/17 increasing to £139,000 in 2017/18.

The council have also saved funds by cutting the money given to voluntary organisation, the Shopmobolity scheme in Huntingdon, which recently had its entire £30,000 of funding cut.

“The county council are cutting these voluntary funds but that doesn’t mean we have to do it in support - everybody has got to bear a bit of the burden,” said Mr Mason.

The council are further planning a phased reduction of 38 per cent of the grants given to voluntary authorities by the council by 2019/20.

Members have also not ruled out increasing council tax in the coming years despite a five year freeze announced in 2014.

Mr Mason said: “There is an agreement that council tax has got to go up in the future but we have frozen it for this year.

“It would be too easy to rest on our laurels.”

If the council were to take advantage and increase the council tax by £5 to £138.18 from £133.18 it would raise £0.3 million for 2016/17 and £1.5 million over the next five years.