UPDATED: Borough braced for £3.5 million of council cuts as fireworks and kite festival axed (From Dorset Echo)
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UPDATED: Borough braced for £3.5 million of council cuts as fireworks and kite festival axed
COUNCIL chiefs are warning there is more pain to come as it is revealed authorities in Weymouth and West Dorset have to save a further £3.5million over the next 18 months.
Around £2.5million has already been saved through the councils joining forces, leading to reduced staffing costs and the loss of about 70 posts.
The new figure was revealed at a Weymouth and Portland Borough Council management committee meeting yesterday when councillors began studying data ahead of balancing the budget for next year in light of reduced government funding.
The borough’s budget gap for 2014/15 currently stands at £921,000.
Finance chiefs have also warned the predicted 10 per cent cut in the government grant for 2015/16 will be more like 15 per cent.
Councillors backed a series of cuts to save money for the future, but also spoke out on the dire state of local government finances in response to a national consultation by ministers.
Borough council finance spokesman Peter Chapman said the ‘deteriorating’ funding situation and tough decisions to be faced was prompting the questions of what local government will look like in five years’ time and exactly what are the services the council will be expected to provide.
He added: “We effectively have two options – we change the level of service or change the way we administer the service. This council has been forward thinking in doing that and protecting frontline services but the pressure continues.
“So do we target services themselves? Do we shift to a unitary authority? Do we expand the merger with West Dorset or merge with other neighbouring councils? Those are all questions which are up in the air.”
Further cuts, new ways to generate income and merging more services with other Dorset authorities are being explored, said chief executive David Clarke.
He said £2.5m had been saved from the partnership between Weymouth and West Dorset councils over the past two-and-a-half years, adding: “What we’re presented with now is that we have to save another £3.5million in the next 18 months between the two authorities.
“We have to look at every opportunity we can and come up with a series of actions. Trying to find that amount is a serious business and we’ll be looking at areas to generate income.
“It’s about managing the service partnership and looking at individual services.”
Mr Clarke also warned councillors: “We may not be the lead authority on services.
“It will be a mixed collection of ideas which are fundamental.”
Coun Geoff Petherick said: “I have sympathy for what the government is trying to do, in that it’s trying to drive out reserves from councils.
“That’s fine for big unitaries but we have £1.5million left in reserves – that’s danger level.”
Bang go the fireworks...
THE borough council will no longer pay for summer fireworks events and the kite festival.
The management committee went along with measures to save £33,356 from the events and festivals service. Firework displays on carnival night and Guy Fawkes are not affected.
Tourism spokesman councillor Ian Bruce stressed it didn’t necessarily mean the end as other organisations could fund them.
The Weymouth BID was suggested as a group which could support the fireworks and run it alongside late-night opening.
He said a review had been undertaken due to the council wanting to save money.
Some events which the council pays for had been identified and whether there was other opportunities for other groups to take them forward.
Coun Bruce said the council was very keen to have events because of the economic benefits.
It supports, facilitates and organises more than 260 activities in the borough.
He added that the fireworks used to be sponsored but that support had ‘fallen away’ over the years.
Coun Ray Nowak said the events added to the ‘visitor experience’ and suggested there be bucket collections at the fireworks to fund them.
Coun Geoff Petherick said the Lions or Rotary clubs could get involved.
Communities director Kate Hindson said: “No-one wants to be making these decisions but it’s not a statutory service the local authority should provide.
“These are the tough choices the budget process will throw up.”
Coun Peter Chapman added: “There are ways round this. We will have to step back from providing discretionary services but communities and the private sector can step forward and take the lead.”
Borough becomes 'poorer cousin'
CONCERNS about the borough council losing its identity have been expressed.
Councillor Ray Nowak said Weymouth and Portland was left as West Dorset’s ‘poorer cousin’ after the merger.
He said he had ‘grave concerns’ about the council evolving into a unitary authority by joining up with others.
Coun Nowak said: “It might make sense when the figures stack up but for me – if the table is bigger the voice gets smaller.
“We have already seen the merger with West Dorset and we have come out as the second cousin.
We have a strong voice but we’re not being taken seriously by our partners and we’re not engaged in the right decision making.
“Our impact has been lessened and our voice has got weaker.
“We will end up as the poorer cousin.”
Coun Ian Bruce said he supported the continued merger of services with West Dorset and suggested staff from Weymouth and Portland could take up empty space at the new Charles Street offices.
Responding to Coun Nowak’s comments, chief executive David Clarke said more staff had actually been involved in work in Weymouth and Portland than in West Dorset over the last few years.
This was particularly evident during the Olympics when the borough would not have been able to deliver without the help of the partnership, he added.
“I do my best to ensure no authority is the weaker,” said Mr Clarke.
Escape for the mayor...for now
NO CUTS to the mayor’s office are yet proposed but the situation is being kept under review.
The total budget for mayoral services and civic hospitality is £73,570 a year.
This includes providing high-profile events such as mayor making, staff costs for a part-time mayor’s secretary, full-time mayor’s chauffeur and a part-time civic assistant.
The mayor and deputy attend about 350 engagements a year.
A proposal by councillor Ian Bruce to get rid of the chauffeur and investigate a cheaper alternative was defeated.
Coun Bruce urged councillors to ‘bite the bullet’ and said to his knowledge every other authority did not provide a chauffeur and car to take mayors to functions.
Coun Peter Chapman said due to a change in financial circumstances the mayoral service should be kept under review but said Coun Bruce’s proposal was ‘too specific’ considering the current information available.
The committee also said the outstanding balance from the mayor’s budget should be put in general reserves rather than being split between the first citizen’s nominated charities.
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