Tough decisions on council finance

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Leading Pendle councillors have revealed that the council looks likely to lose more and more money in the coming years.

But despite that they are determined to boost local businesses to benefit their borough.

Like many other councils, Pendle has had a massive reduction in its income for the past four years.

And it now looks likely that the situation will continue being “extremely challenging” with year-on-year reductions until 2017/18.

Pendle Council has managed to cope well with its finances since it was set up 40 years ago but it is getting harder and harder.

The leader of the council, Coun. Joe Cooney, has revealed that in the coming years councils will need to be more self-sufficient.

He said: “The Government has made it clear that changes in the financing of local government mean that councils now have the opportunity to increase their income by growing their local economies. That’s why the strategies we are pursuing are focused on delivering sustainable economic growth.”

He added: “This is no different to our Financial Strategy, which focuses on investment in activities aimed at helping businesses sustain and create jobs and grow their business in Pendle.”

This strategy has three key strands – growing income from business rates and New Homes Bonus; charging for services; and saving costs by being more efficient, spending less on services or not providing some services.

And Coun. Cooney said: “We want to provide help for businesses to expand their premises, which not only creates jobs for local residents but more business rate income, too.

“That’s why we’ve set aside £800,000 in our Gearing up for Growth and Inward Incentives Funds, to help new and existing businesses expand and compete nationally and internationally.

“We also want to promote more investment in houses to add to the £750,000 of New Homes Bonus grant we’re already receiving. We’ll receive more grant if we bring empty homes back into use and have more new housing.

“But as these measures will take time to generate income, we need to find other ways to ensure the council’s budget can be balanced. This includes considering the charges we make for services.”

He added: “And we’re also talking to staff to see if they’d like to consider options including reducing their hours, taking voluntary redundancy or flexible retirement to avoid any compulsory redundancies.”

Deputy Leader Coun. Tony Greaves said: “We’re passionate about Pendle and making sure we provide good quality services to our residents. We want to continue to provide the same level of services to our residents, but this continued financial squeeze means that we’re again faced with taking some tough decision.”

At a finance meeting with the media, Coun. Greaves revealed Government funding has been cut from £11 million to £6 million but he said: “Putting up the Council Tax is not the answer.”

He revealed that the council’s staff had reduced from 445 to 285 since 2010.

But he added: “We feel the council has been extremely successful in keeping finance going. We’ve found ways of transferring some services to town councils and parish councils. It is not easy.

“We are having to cope with it and charging is a better item than closing services down.”

Coun. Cooney said: “We are going to have to try and encourage economic development.”

And he added: “We only get 15 or 16% of the Council Tax. We only get a fraction of what people pay. We do try to be as simple as we can.”

Coun. Cooney can be contacted in the following ways: email, call 661661, Tweet @cllrjoecooney or on the last Saturday of each month from 9-30am at the North Valley Community Centre in Colne.