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Budget = Cuts

Council bosses say increasing income and prioritising “core services” will be their focus as they battle with another cut in government grants. Parking charges will rise and the district’s share of council tax will go up by the maximum two per cent allowed (unless a local referendum takes place) as officials try to balance Canterbury City Council’s (CCC) budget.

The authority must slash £5.5 million by 2017-18, in addition to £4 million already found through savings from schemes including shutting Herne Bay, Whitstable and Canterbury Heritage museums for winter.

Although the amount of central Government grant to be awarded will not be formally announced until next month, CCC expects a cut of 13 per cent for 2014-15 – a reduction of £1.3 million from £10.2million to £8.9 million.

For the year 2015-16 the authority expects a further reduction of 16 per cent, taking the grant down to £7.5 million. Additional reductions are forecast at nine per cent for 2016-17 and ten per cent for 2017-18.

Council services have been ranked in order of importance to help work out where money should be spent and where savings can be made, but city council chief executive Colin Carmichael warned tough decisions lie ahead. He said:

“It is a very significant reduction and we can’t just carry on doing things the same way. We have to work out what our core business is. There is no way to just carry on squeezing everything and trying to find the extra savings. It will not work. Within the next few years, councillors have to make a decision on what we won’t do any more.”

Consultation on the new proposals will start after they have been discussed by members of the council’s ruling executive committee tonight (Thursday 7th Nov). They include raising parking charges in some city centre car parks by 20p an hour, and increasing the authority’s proportion of the council tax by two per cent, or about 7p a week for a Band D property. The hike would bring in an extra £170,000 a year.

Officials can boost income by making sure planned new homes are built, earning a portion of the Government’s new homes bonus. There is also rental income from Whitefriars shopping centre and other property, including the Military Road offices left empty by staff cuts. But Mr Carmichael warned that services would be affected:

“If people care enough about their local services they will get involved and they can find different ways of doing things. It has already worked with the Westgate Hall and it could work elsewhere. We also need managers within the council to come up with creative ways to reduce costs and increase income.”

No large-scale redundancy programme is planned, but vacant posts may not be filled and each department will continue to be reviewed. Each service has been set a 20 per cent savings target between now and 2016. Cuts could also be made to the civic office, with the Lord Mayor undertaking fewer engagements. The council may also now charge for any house or street renaming services. Council leader John Gilbey said:

“The world of local government funding has now changed forever. We have to accept that there is less money available.”

thisiskent 7th November 2013

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