Welwyn Hatfield Council budget under fire over 'lack of ambition'
PUBLISHED: 15:41 08 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:41 08 February 2018
Opposition leaders have attacked Welwyn Hatfield Council's budget, arguing that "people expect decent standards and they're not getting them".
The council’s 2018/19 budget was approved by Full Council on Monday, February 5.
It sees a further 11 per cent cut in the core grant from central government, a cumulative 63 per cent slash in funding since 2010.
At the meeting, Labour leader Kieran Thorpe said: “When they started the process, which has now taken 63 per cent of our funding away, the Conservatives and Lib Dems said don’t worry.
“It would all be OK, it would all be worthwhile, or at the very least it would be not so bad..because of Localism.
“We’d have peanuts, but we’d finally have the full control over how those peanuts are used.
“And they’d encourage us to use them to be self sustaining.
“But you didn’t do anything meaningful to that end for years.
“And now you are, we’re running into problems.”
Mr Thorpe added: “We’re not generating anything like what we will need to sustain ourselves.”
Lib Dem leader Malcolm Cowan said: “People expect decent standards and they are not getting them.
“Too often, council staff tell me they are too squeezed to be able to provide a service.
“They are being abandoned in this budget.
“It’s this lack of ambition to make the place better that we and so many of the public find wanting.
“Yet even now, the council is taking an excessively cautious approach to the money it has got and is putting another £200,000 into revenue reserves when they are already large.
“You say the minimum should be £1.6million, yet they are over £8million and you are seeking to put in even more.
“We say there must be another approach.”
Tory councillor Duncan Bell, executive member for resources, said: “With continued reductions to our core funding from central government, we are having to make some tough decisions and come up with new ways to make savings whilst continuing to deliver vital services to our residents and investing in the borough.
“We have focused on finding new sources of income and the best ways to make our funds go further for the benefit of Welwyn Hatfield.”
In response to members’ concerns, it was agreed to allocate additional resources to parking services, committing a further £100,000 to help tackle parking pressures around the borough.
There will be increased income from the council’s property portfolio and council-owned garages.
A total of £16millon will be invested as part of the council’s capital programme to improve facilities and services, and help generate additional income.
This includes the continued regeneration of Hatfield town centre, a schedule of litter and dog bin replacement, investment in play areas, and a garage refurbishment programme.
A further £16million will be allocated to providing more affordable housing, and £12million will be invested in the council’s existing housing stock.
To help close the funding gap, the borough’s portion of the average Band D council tax is set to rise by £5 (2.48%) to £206.61 per year.
This increase is below the rate of inflation, and lower than the 3 per cent maximum allowed.
Since 2010, a council spokesman said £12million had been saved through “efficiences”.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems raised concerns over Campus West.
Mr Thorpe said services that the council controls “have to be managed properly” adding: “Campus West continues to make a loss. Why?
“It’s a cinema with fairly unique leisure facilities not facing much competition locally.
“As a venue it appears to be criminally under used.
“Other councils not far from here manage similar venues and they are profitable.”
Mr Cowan said: “Last year we showed how the Humphreys café was losing £200,000 per year.
“This year, you put all the Campus West operations together, but we now have a breakdown and what does it show?
“First, of the £300,000 reduction in Campus West loss – half has come from moving publicity costs out of Campus West to another cost centre – so not an improvement, just a reallocation that you hoped we wouldn’t notice.
“And when we look at revenue there, guess what, it isn’t increasing at all.
“Despite the big rise in cinema prices – no more income. Wow.”
A council spokesman said savings had been “identified as part of a review of CW Entertainment at Campus West”.
•A special council meeting on February 21 will set council tax for 2018/19, including the amounts charged by Hertfordshire County Council, the police, and town and parish councils.