Mansfield District Council fights to balance the books

Coun Roger Sutcliife adds the final touches to his Mansfield District Council Budget on Monday
Coun Roger Sutcliife adds the final touches to his Mansfield District Council Budget on Monday
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MANSFIELD District Council will make a final decision tonight on a budget featuring no increase in Council Tax but efficiency measures, schemes and cuts designed to bridge a £3.4m funding gap.

Senior councillors say the proposals will keep the council in the black for 2012 to 2013.

But Independent mayor Tony Egginton and portfolio holder for resources Roger Sutcliffe need them to be rubber-stamped by other members.

Key points of the budget to be debated at a full council meeting tonight include:

A second 12-month freeze in the authority’s portion of Council Tax bills.

More than 60 efficiency and income generation plans to fill a predicted £3.4m cash black hole in the council’s finances.

Introduction of an optional £25 annual fee for residents still wanting the authority to keep emptying their brown garden waste bins.

A £138,000 economic stimulus pot to tackle youth unemployment with apprenticeship schemes.

Changes to charges including dropping the £1.50 minimum two-hour stays at nine town car parks to bring back cheaper one-hour stays.

Some shoppers and business owners welcomed the car park changes last week after Chad reported how many had opposed the £1.50 minimums.

The proposals also mean Warsop’s Meden Sports Centre, threatened with closure last year, will stay open for at least another 12 months.

Coun Sutcliffe said setting the authority’s budget is becoming an ‘increasingly challenging task’.

Last year the council estimated it would need to find £719,000 to fill the budget gap in 2012 to 2013, but this has now soared to £3.4m.

Reduced income from car parking, property rents and building regulations have been blamed.

The authority also says bank interest rates staying lower for longer than expected have hit its investments.

The council is forecasting a £1.68m total income from car parking charges for the current financial year, £435,000 less than expected.

Council investments saw an average rate of return of 0.87 per cent in 2010 to 2011, compared to 5.39 per cent in 2009 to 2010.

The Government is also slashing the annual cash grants it hands to local councils.

Westminster has told Mansfield it will allocate it £7.282m to spend in 2012 to 2013.

This is £7,000 less than had been expected, £903,000 less than last year and £3.084m less than 2010 to 2011.

However, the council will get a £147,000 one-off payment from the Government if it agrees not to raise Council Tax again tonight.

Said Coun Sutcliffe: “This budget is designed to limit the impact of the current austerity measures on residents and businesses and continue the long-term sustainability of the district finances.

“However, meeting these priorities, finding the necessary savings and delivering a balanced budget is becoming an increasingly challenging task.”

Paul Frost, a representative of the anti-cuts group Mansfield Save Our Services, said some of the plans on the table “seem sensible” in light of the economic climate.

“If savings can be achieved with minimal affect to the public and the council’s workforce no-one’s going to complain - but on the recruitment freeze I’d question whether other jobs and services will be affected.”