Stark cuts ahead for Huntingdonshire warns district council MD

Managing Director of HDC Jo Lancaster

Managing Director of HDC Jo Lancaster - Credit: Archant

The managing director of Huntingdonshire District Council has not ruled out charging for services such as collecting garden waste and cutting staff pay as the authority looks to wipe £5.8million from its budget by 2017/18.

In her report Facing The Future 2013, Jo Lancaster warns of “fairly stark” choices having to be made and lists a 15-point plan for cuts or extra income.

Among her more radical options is introducing extra fees for services such as shopmobility and emptying green bins.

She also talks of making the most of the council’s property portfolio, including public toilets and sports clubs, worth an estimated £57m, by putting it up for sale or sub-letting.

HDC is also to consider developing land it owns such as off-road parking and green space. Mrs Lancaster said: “There would obviously be some resistance to the development of such areas and they will all need to go through the planning application system.”

Cutting council staff wages, which accounted for £25m out of HDC’s £78m budget for 2013/14, is mentioned, although Mrs Lancaster warns a current pay review might already have left some employees with a lower salary. Alternatively, she suggested staff could have allowances reduced or take a voluntary cut in hours.

Vacancies had been left unfilled for longer – delaying the start date of 70 new recruits in 2012/13 by five working days had saved £40,000, she said.

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Another option is axing whole services which HDC is not legally obliged to provide, particularly if available privately, such as pest control.

“Theoretically, if a service is non-statutory and does not directly support the delivery of the council’s key priorities, council funding should not be committed to it, no matter how used people have become to that service existing,” she said.

Other savings could be made by transferring back office functions such as IT, HR and finance to a private company and sharing services with other local authorities.

Mrs Lancaster concludes “doing nothing is not an option” and calls for a “combination approach” to bridge the gap between spending and income.

HDC leader Cllr Jason Ablewhite said HDC’s scrutiny panels would help with the difficult task of shaping the budget, due to be set in March next year.

“Nothing will be off the table,” he added. “We have got to the point where funding from central government is being squeezed so hard, we have to look at everything we do.”

He said a leaflet would be delivered to all households later this year asking people to tell HDC what services were important to them.

On the possibility of charges for green bins, he said: “It’s never going to be my aspiration to charge for the first green bin, unless we have exhausted every other bit of efficiency possible.”