A Matter of Interest
Many savers have been affected by falling interest rates and Crawley Council has felt this more than most. To help fund our services we need to use interest on our savings. Back in July 2008, we were predicting that we would receive £4.4 million of interest in the 2009/10 financial year. That figure could now be reduced by some £1.7 million which is a major gap to fill.
Fortunately we have been pro-actively dealing with this problem. We have a policy objective of balancing our revenue budget so that income matches expenditure. Then we can start to reduce our dependency on interest income and use some of our savings for new capital projects such as neighbourhood centre improvements. Alongside this ambition, it is our policy to keep Council Tax increases no higher than the rate of inflation. For the past two years, we have set increases of 2%, the lowest in all of West and East Sussex.
We have a cross-party Budget Advisory Group (BAG) which identifies savings and growth items every year. The BAG has proposed efficiency savings of £1.3 million for 2009/10 alongside growth of £243,000 in support of a policy steer from the council’s cabinet. Even in extreme economic conditions, it is right to identify growth to deliver on local priorities.
Growth will include funding for a Benefits Promotion Officer to assist take-up of entitlements in these difficult times. We will also put more resources into regulating without discouraging HMOs (homes in multiple occupation). Money for planning enforcement will be increased to enable better monitoring of compliance with planning application conditions. More resources will be put into tree maintenance in response to real public demand. We will also be part-funding an External Funding Officer to improve our ability to bring in grants in support of local projects.
The operation of local authority finance might be one of the driest subjects to write about but it is fundamental to our ability to deliver services and facilities. Our neighbourhood improvement schemes require capital to make them happen. When we use capital to do this, we lose interest used to support our day-to-day services. At the same time, we are not seeing many new capital receipts coming in through land or property sales.
This can all sound bleak but with appropriate financial discipline the Council emerge stronger out of the current recession and ready to play its part in leading a recovery. Fundamental to this goal is a readiness to continue pursuing efficiency savings and to ensure that all current and new services are funded in a sustainable way.
Councillor Bob Lanzer
16th January 2009