Coun John Wilmott’s guest column: Government are to blame for Ashfield Disrict Council’s tax increase

John Wilmott, Labour candidate in Hucknall North
John Wilmott, Labour candidate in Hucknall North

In supporting this 1.94 per cent council tax rise for the people of ashfield, can I say the Tory Lib Dem led coalition Government has imposed the biggest funding reductions in the public sector on local council’s ever.

Funding for local government has been cut by 40 per cent over this parliament with councils having to reduce their budgets by a total of £20 billion by 2015/16.

David Cameron and Eric Pickles are distributing these massive cuts unfairly, hitting those that can least afford it the hardest.

It is scandalous that the areas with the greatest need are shouldering the largest reductions in Central Government funding.

The Prime Minister has said we are all in it together, but in his local authority of West Oxfordshire, which is one of the least deprived areas in the country (ranked 316 out of 325 in the indices of multi-deprevation) is getting an increase in spending power of 3.1 per cent in 2013/14 while most councils are facing significant reductions.

In going back to our own budget in Ashfield it is essential we set out a balanced budget in line with present and future predictions of further reduced budgetary provisions.

The consultation with the people of Ashfield that has taken place over the last few weeks has been a great help and has helped us in the decision making process.

It has not been easy and I would like to personally thank the finance and revenue teams led by Coun Dave Shaw for the way they have helped the ruling group in coming to some very difficult decisions.

The budget and council tax setting has come through a rigorous scrutiny by officers and members through our medium term financial strategy,

This has set out a business case, which is to establish what savings are required year on year, consult with the residents on the proposals suggested, allow the council to set a five year plan and explain what resources will be available to the council from the Coalition Government.

It will also take into account the continued spending pressures, including inflation, the capital finance charges and the widening gap between expenditure and resources.

Even with all these cuts we are having to make our services continue to improve.

The executive summary of the current performance levels for April to December 2013 indicates a 40 per cent of improvement activity has already been completed with 55 per cent on track.

Sixty-one per cent of performance that can be compared to last year has improved overall and 75 per cent has improved or is within acceptable levels.

During this quarter we have successfully improved planning performance and created more jobs through our interventions and seen an increase in the business rateable value of the district which indicates increased business levels, reduced the levels of non-decent homes in the councils stock and brought more long term empty homes back into use.

We have also seen continuing reductions in crime, improved benefits performance and prevented more households from becoming homeless.

Other successes include supporting more organisations through grant funding and improvements in sickness absence levels.

At outcome levels we are also seeing some improvements with less children in poverty, less excess winter deaths, increased male and female life expectancy and more active adults and sport participation levels.

Our focus on improving performance will continue to ensure that quality services are delivered to our residents whilst we continue to reduce our spend on services.

Further good news is the reduction of incidents of anti-social behaviour in Ashfield and the improvement in the communities health and wellbeing by adult participation in sport rising by more than 10 per cent in Ashfield since last year:

And the number of users of our leisure centres has risen to 656,388 in a 12 month period an all time record and the number of community groups supported by Ashfield District Council grants has risen to 104.

Congratulations to our staff and our partners staff who are doing a sterling job.

This council has once again in partnership with everyone active, who run our leisure centres, announced a price freeze on membership for the third year running.

And I am also announcing that anyone who enrolls on to the everyone active swimming lesson programme will be offered free public swimming, which is currently standing at 3,000 customers. We see this as a great benefit to the community.

The commitment by officers and members of the ruling group will continue in an attempt to deliver the very best services to the people of Ashfield.