Ashfield Council reeling from huge cut in funding

NMAC10-2465-1''Kirkby Ashfield District Council Offices
NMAC10-2465-1''Kirkby Ashfield District Council Offices

SERVICES in Hucknall could be threatened after Ashfield District Council was hit by a huge cut in funding from the coalition government.

The council’s rate support grant — a cash boost received by all local authorities every year — has been reduced by a massive total of 23% overall for the next two financial years.

It is the maximum reduction possible and has triggered alarm-bells within Ashfield’s Kirkby headquarters.

The council’s deputy chief executive, Dave Greenwood, said that as the result of the settlement, its budget gap would be £2.6 million for 2011/12 and could have reached as much as £4.5 million by 2012/13.

But he stressed: “We are not panicking and we are looking at various ways to make the best of our position. The council is determined to do its utmost to protect front-line services.”

What has caused a lot of anger is that Ashfield is one of only 12 councils across the country which have suffered maximum loss under a new government arrangement, despite all having high levels of deprivation.

All are Labour-controlled, with the exception of Hastings, which is a marginal Conservative seat.

About three months ago, the Dispatch reported on a prediction that Hucknall would be one of the worst-affected towns in the whole country when the public-spending cuts imposed by the government and local councils took effect.

Ashfield, including Hucknall, was listed as the eighth most vulnerable area out of 324 in the country as a result of the research, which was commissioned by BBC TV and conducted by information services company Experian.

The council’s lead member for finance, Coun Trevor Locke (Lab), of Hucknall, described the government cut as a “hefty blow”. He added: “It means we will now have to re-adjust our whole budget.

“I would have thought that Ashfield and the other 11 councils being areas of deprivation was something that the government should have taken into account.”

Coun Locke said the council had been accused by its Liberal Democrat group of underspending. “But we having to be as proudent as we can and to protect as many services we provide as possible,” he added.

Ashfield’s deputy leadeer, Coun John Wilmott (Lab), also of Hucknall, said: “The council now faces a very big challenge. Many of the issues which we thought had been addressed will now raise their ugly heads again.”

But Ashfield’s Liberal Democrat group leader, Coun Jason Zadrozny, claimed that the council had ‘stockpiled’ finances and had millions in the bank. He thought this was the likely reason for the size of the reduction of the rate support grant.

“Labour member sare doing some creative accounting to make political mischief,” said Coun Zadrozny. “Really, Ashfield District Council is in one of the most enviable financial positions of any in the country.”

Hucknall’s Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, commented: “Labour councils are sometimes not run in the most efficient manner.”