Frontline services will not be affected

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FRONTLINE services like bin collections, street cleaning and environmental health will NOT be slashed when Ashfield District Council’s budget is rubber-stamped next month.

The budget strategy for the new financial year was agreed at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Monday night and is expected to be given a final seal of approval when the full council meets on 1st March.

Significantly, householders will not be faced with an increase in Ashfield’s share of the Council Tax - with levels set at the same rate as 2010/11.

It means Band D homes will continue to pay £167.22.

Council property tenants face an average increase in rent of 4.92 per cent.

Said portfolio holder for corporate and customer services, Coun Trevor Locke, said: “We hope that this budget will be welcomed by Ashfield’s residents, as it avoids reductions to the services they have told us they value.

“Our plans to improve the council’s efficiency are ambitious, and there is much hard work to be done - but we firmly believe that this is the right course of action for the district.”

He said the council had been dealt a ‘challenging financial settlement’ from central Government.

The Government plans to reduce the formula grant which partly funds the council, from £10m in 2010/11 to £7.6m in 2012/13.

But the council will benefit from other Government grants worth £1.2 million over that period.

Said Coun Locke: “This challenging financial settlement from the Government has been expected for some time, so we have ensured that the council has maintained its reserves, to give us time to streamline and improve many of our larger areas of spending, such as planning, housing benefits, and waste services.

“We will do this in a way that improves what the customer experiences, and minimise the cost of back office support to the frontline.”

The council’s general fund reserve is expected to have a balance of £5.4m on 31st March after the council underspent on the budget for 2010/11 by £1.1m.

Council chiefs are planning to spend £2m in 2011/12 to ‘improve the efficiency of its services’.

A restructure of senior management, control on recruitment and proposals to share services with other councils would help save cash.

Contributions to local voluntary groups would be maintained at current levels.

The leader of the Independent and Conservative Alliance, Coun Gail Turner said: “While the level of cuts in grant from the Government is unprecedented, as councillors we are determined to ensure that our frontline services continue to improve.

“We are equally keen to scrutinise the services which support the frontline, to make sure that no opportunity to make efficiencies is lost.”

The council will continue to earmark £250,000 a year for repairs and renewal at the Lammas Leisure Centre, which is expected to have a lifespan of at least 50 years.

The cash is being reserved to pay for major pieces of infrastructure and machinery.

A council spokesman said an analysis of the building’s likely future maintenance needs would be carried out next year.

The contribution to the repair and renewal fund would also be reviewed.

Residents can fill in an online questionnaire about the budget strategy on the council’s website, www.ashfield.gov.uk.

Added Coun Locke: “The more that residents can tell us about their experience of our services, good or bad, the more this will help us to improve how we deliver them.”