Opposition critical of council spending plan

Latest news from the Harborough Mail
Latest news from the Harborough Mail

Budget proposals including plans to make £107,000 in cuts have been put out to public consultation by Harborough District Council.

The council’s ruling Conservative executive wants to reduce grass cutting and street cleaning services as part of a package of cuts as it attempts to balance the books in the light of an expected 12 per cent reduction in the authority’s Government grant.

It also plans to spend an extra £317,000 on appointing a new head of planning, investing in the customer contact centre it shares with Charnwood Borough Council and on the possible appointment of political assistants for councillors.

The authority’s portion of the council tax bill looks set to be frozen, which attracts a Government grant of £52,000.

At a meeting on Monday the executive agreed to send the budget proposal out to consultation.

Cllr Paul Bremner, who holds the finance portfolio on the council, said the budget is balanced and builds on the council’s transformation programme which has cut £1.8m from council spending since 2010 with a vision to save £3m more in the next five years.

But Cllr Phil Knowles, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the council, questioned some of the spending plans, including the proposal to put £80,000 in additional funding into the call centre at Charnwood.

He said: “We were originally sold this as a high-satisfaction lower-cost option to employing our own staff, so why do we need the extra funding?

“Are numbers of calls increasing? Which services are getting more calls and why?

“I have requested a full and detailed breakdown from officers.

“Then £50,000 for external support on consideration of the waste contract; £90,000 for a new head of planning when it was previously indicated the post could be removed as not required; yet more answers are needed to explain these huge additional amounts of public money.

“Finally, £22,000-plus for the provision of political assistants, with the plus potentially being provided from reserves. This is a district council not a county or major city council so how can this be justified?”

Cllr Bremner said the money for the call centre is necessary to respond to an increased volume of calls and that specialist external support is required to ensure the procurement route for the waste contract is legally sound.

He said the £90,000 for the head of planning role also includes the cost of making key changes following a review, while political assistant proposals will only go ahead if councillors agreed on it.

Cllr Bremner added: “The budget continues our pledge to keep our portion of council tax at a zero per cent increase while maintaining services at the level customers have come to expect.

“This year we will see much more change as Leicestershire County Council looks to cut around £100m but the district council is ready and prepared through its programme of transformation to weather these coming changes.”