On Wednesday this week it was Cabinet. I attended in my role as Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism. I presented one item on the agenda which was the Council’s Play Strategy. I can understand people who think, ‘oh, no another glossy document’ and sometimes I agree that we do produce too much paper work.
However, this one maybe a way into £200,000 of lottery funding to provide play equipment and facilities throughout the borough, but in spite of that, it is a document that we need as it helps the council decide on the priorities when it comes to play spending. With more and more housing developments coming on line throughout the Fylde, the planning gain monies can now be spent on play facilities in a co-ordinated manner that fits the gaps that the strategy has highlighted.
Also at the meeting we heard a report from the finance officer that Fylde is currently facing a £1m funding short fall next year, on a budget of around £10m, so a 10% cut is expected.
I asked the reasons why and the answer may not be to surprising. It boils down to this Government. The Labour Party has hit Fylde hard, free bus travel is still not being funded properly meaning everyone in this borough picks up the cost. The government are cutting our support grant by £300,000. They are messing about with benefit delivery grants, cutting other schemes and yet are tying our hands by capping tax.
I understand that the last point my be controversial. But it’s true, if you take all the other taxing bodies, like County, the Police, the Fire Authority and the Town Council. Fylde asks for £16 a month to do what it has to and a whole lot more. It’s the second lowest in the county and it’s is nationally low. However, we live in a borough where people have high expectations of what the council should deliver, like pools, car parking, a theatre, perfect parks, clean streets and a world class bin service. That’s a tall order on £16 a month.
This low tax which is hamstringing the expectations of the population is a legacy of the Independents control of the council, when their only policy was to keep the rates low. We now collect so little money we can’t afford to maintain our buildings and every year is a struggle to balance a budget.
As a Conservative I am naturally against people paying higher tax. I want tax low, but I also want a borough council that can afford to do the great things that’s public want to see done.
This is a debate we need to have as a borough. For every 1% rise in council tax brings into Fylde Council about £45.00 but costs you £1.60 a year, or 16p per month (council tax is only collected for ten months). This is not my policy, but it is the starting point of a debate. IF council tax went up say 20% one year that would increase income to the council by £900,000 and would cost each tax payer another £3.20 a month. The increase in the council’s spending power would be phenomenal meaning we could do all the things that people write to the papers saying we should be doing. There’d be no doubt about the pools, the parks, Tourism, the arts, events, the streets, the bins anything would be possible (with in reason).
Remembering this is a debate and not a prescribed course of action, to reduce spending by that much would see the closure of both pools, Lowther Pavilion, the Games sites and Fairhaven. Is that acceptable?
So in a nut shell we have a number of options, these being;
A big one of tax rise
Massive spending cuts making tough decisions
As Winston Churchill’s motto was, we’ll keep buggering on, and find that white rabbit every year
A mixture of the first three
Manage expectations, so people expect less
Think out of the box and hope something occurs on the horizon.
As this is a debate, I’d love to hear your views. And as I keep saying, this is not my policy or my thoughts, more of an open ramble about the problems of local government finance in a borough where people rightly have high expectations.