Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Cake Today Or Cake Tomorrow?

Last month's Full Council meeting saw Labour take the reins at Cecil Square. 6 weeks on and we are back to approve (or not) the Budget along with a few other important issues. Kick off 7pm on Thursday.

First up is a presentation from Stuart Bain, the Chief Exec of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, on the proposed transporting of patients with life-threatening emergencies from Thanet to Ashford. Hopefully the Councillors will have some questions prepped and we will see some more fleshing out of what’s behind the move, other than the obvious...

Next up is the Leader’s Report which usually throws up a row of some sort. I doubt this will be much different. Heck, it’ll probably be worse now the Conservatives have more Councillors than Labour..

Continuing the theme of rowing, the Budget comes up. As you will all have seen theres been a battle over the events budget and floral grants, which eventually saw Cllr Driver leaving the Labour Group. So this really matters and its really important the right decision is made. The relevant bits of the reports are the following:

New Homes Bonus – The Council will receive £536k of New Homes
Bonus in 2012/13 and each of the following five years. It will also receive
additional sums for any further new homes built. It is proposed that some of
this funding is used to cover the events budget (£165k) and floral grants
(£20k). However, it is expected that future allocations of Formula Grant
may be top-sliced to fund the reward of the New Homes Bonus and it is
therefore possible that this funding may be needed in future years to offset
this reduction. If there is insufficient New Homes Bonus funding to meet the
cost of events and floral grants in future years, then these budgets will be
removed.” (page 16)

There is no surety around future allocations of the New Homes Bonus as the
Formula Grant may be top-sliced in future years to fund the New Homes Bonus
scheme – the impact on Thanet of any top-slicing is unclear at this stage. There
is therefore some concern over using this funding to support the budget over the
medium term. There must be a clear understanding that if the funding is not
available, then the events and floral grants budgets will be removed.” (page 31)

So we know this pot of money isn’t going to be around for long. Even Cllr Rick Everitt conceded that this funding may not be around for long. Add the very real possibility of going into recession again (some argue this has already happened) and I would suspect that what we are to receive this year is about all we will receive.

While Labour has tried to play the Conservative position as OTT austerity, Neil Hornus straightforwardly argued at Overview on this that it was about being prudent with the money the Council has and I agree with him. Its not about depriving Thanet of the ability to attract people. Cllr Martin Wise made the point that the New Homes Bonus was considered by them a “safety net”. The Conservatives on the other hand are arguing that Labour at the first time of asking is throwing money around and putting at risk financial stability. Seeing how the economic news gets gloomier by the day, the decisions having to be made now are ones that normally would be rejected out of hand. I’d rather we hung onto the money for this financial year until there is more certainty about the economic picture and in particular the funding the Council can rely on. There are tough decisions to be made and sacrifices are being considered, but isn’t that what we elect them to do?

In the report it is noted that for the first two months of this coming financial year, the current car parking fees will remain. Proposals are expected before Full Council on the 19th April with changes taking effect from 1st June.

Once that one’s put to bed, Hartsdown Park, with the Cabinet’s recommendations. There’s been a lot of talk about this one too. Going into the meeting the expectation was of a compromise, which did indeed appear. During the Cabinet meeting it was said that the Conservatives were against granting leases, but I rather doubt that’s the case. Certainly there’s been nothing in the public to back that up. What will happen? I would imagine it’ll pass though of course the Independent Group will decide this one. The recommendations were the following:

1.   Area A - Recommended the extension of the current lease from 10 to 24 years;

2.   Area B - Recommended refusal of granting a lease for an extended area for a football pitch as this is too intrusive in Hartsdown Park;

3.   Area C - Recommended the removal of this area from the proposal or at most grant a small extension to the current car park in line with the plan that has been circulated. This would require the developers to seek an alteration to the current planning condition on parking provision;

4.   Area D - Recommended agreement to the development of a lease within the current football ground area for the construction of a hotel in line with the approved planning application, but to negotiate the reduction in the lease period required to the absolute minimum necessary. The developers will need to provide specific financial information that demonstrates the need for the required lease period for which they have asked;

5.   Area E - Recommended the extension of the lease for the current five-a-side pitches and car park from 15 to 24 years, to coincide in timing with the main ground lease.”

Im sure the public gallery will be full so best get in early.

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