District continues bearing brunt of national austerity

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DESPITE bearing the brunt of government cuts, district councillors have hailed a ‘high level of achievement’ in helping balance the books.

Chichester District Council stands to face a funding cut of £680,000 from the government’s revenue support grant next year – £1.6m in the 2015/16 financial year compared to £2.3m this year.

“We have borne the full brunt of the coalition government’s austerity programme since 2010 and next year will be no exception,” said Tony Dignum, cabinet member for finance.

He presented the five-year financial strategy of the council on Monday, also warning people to expect further financial squeezes from the government.

“The current financial model shows a balanced budget over the five years of the model,” Cllr Dignum told a full council meeting.

The balanced budget is despite the £680,000 cut – 30 per cent of last year’s grant – which is equivalent to ten 
per cent of the council’s income from council tax.

Fellow cabinet member Josef Ransley said presenting a balanced budget despite the cut showed a ‘high level of achievement in how we manage our finances’.

Although council tax increases are yet to be finalised, Cllr Dignum said he was assuming an annual two per cent increase in the district council’s precept.

“The government has been setting a cap on increases of two per cent and offering short-term grants to authorities setting a freeze on council tax.

“In our forecast, annual increases of two per cent 
are assumed, but it will 
be for council to set a 
figure each year within government limits.”

He added he would be making a full proposal on council tax in February to 
the cabinet.

The strategy follows a £2.4m deficit reduction programme started in May last year.

Cllr Dignum said the deficit programme allowed the council to ‘avoid cuts in frontline services delivered to residents’, as well as helping less well-off residents with council tax support.

The council currently relies on £18m from fees and charges, which accounts for 58 per cent of its budget. Out of this, car parking charges currently contribute around £5m to the council budget, an increase of £200,000 on the previous year.

Cllr Dignum said the car parking income was sensitive to other economic activity in the district and so could change quite a lot within the next five years.

The latest cut in the revenue support grant is predicted to continue by the council and by 2019/20 is expected to be just £600,000 from the government.