CUTS CRUNCH: Ashfield protects services and shuns council-tax rise

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RELIEVED Ashfield District Council has managed to balance the books to protect frontline services and prevent a council-tax rise in the wake of sweeping cuts.

The draft budget for the new financial year has been agreed by the council’s Cabinet and is expected to be rubberstamped when the full council meets on Tuesday (March 1).

It was feared that the government’s mission to slash public spending and the money it hands out to local councils in grants would force Ashfield to axe key services and cut hundreds of jobs in Hucknall and the rest of the district.

But headline news is that services such as rubbish collection, street cleaning and environmental-health schemes will be protected.

There will also be no increase in the proportion of the council tax charged by the council. This will be frozen at the current rate.

Coun Trevor Locke (Lab), of Hucknall, who is lead member for corporate and customer services, said: “We hope this budget will be welcomed by Ashfield’s residents. It avoids reductions to the services they have told us they value.

“Our plans to improve the council’s efficiency are ambitious and there is much hard work to be done. But we firmly believe that this is the right course of action for the district.”

The Dispatch reported previously that Ashfield was among the areas hardest hit by the recession.

This was followed up by news that the amount of money the council gets from government would be slashed by 23% as part of the controversial spending review aimed at bringing the national deficit under control.

This amounts to a reduction from £10 million in 2010/11 to £7.6 million in 2012/13.

It was also previously stated that the council would need to make savings of £1.4 million a year or face crippling debts.

However the council has managed to offset the losses by dipping into its reserves.

Added Coun Locke: “This challenging financial settlement from the government has been expected for some time, so we have ensured that the council has maintained its reserves to give us time to streamline and improve many of our larger areas of spending, such as planning, housing benefits, and waste services.

“We will do this in a way that improves what the customer experiences and minimises the cost of back-office support to the front line.”

The council’s general-fund reserve is expected to have a balance of £5.4 million by Thursday March 31 after efficiency savings meant a £1.1 million underspend on the budget for 2010/11.

Council chiefs are planning to spend £2 million in 2011/12 to “improve the efficiency of its services”.

A restructure of senior management, control on recruitment and proposals to share services with other councils will also help to save cash.

Coun Gail Turner (Ind) said: “While the level of cuts in grant from the government is unprecedented, as councillors we are determined to ensure that our frontline services continue to improve.”