Staff costs savings help plug the gap

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SOUTH Holland district councillors agreed their budget last week – with savings on staff costs helping to plug a £1.9million drop in Government funding.

The district council signed off a series of finance papers on Wednesday night which included the deal to freeze Council Tax bills for 2011/12.

The authority says it has been planning ahead for the cuts for two years and, although the Government settlement was harsher than the council expected, it has protected frontline services from the axe.

Speaking after the meeting, Coun Paul Przyszlak said that when staff have left, their roles have either been kept empty or been filled by temporary staff – preventing the need for mass job losses.

Back office services have been merged with East Lindsey District Council and the management team is in the process of being shared with Breckland District Council.

Coun Przyszlak said: “There hasn’t been wholesale slash and burn.

“It is difficult to save money without affecting people, as much as we would like to, but we saw that the situation couldn’t continue two years ago and starting planning then.

“Whenever we talk about this people ask why we haven’t done it already. The answer to that quite honestly is that we courted Boston eight years ago and they walked away from it.

“Breckland were jilted by another authority in Norfolk.

“We were two jilted brides on the rebound.”

A report is due on the final management merger with Breckland, in which the total figure of redundancies should become clearer. It is believed that a number of people confirmed voluntary redundancy deals last week.

At last week’s council meeting members paid tribute to the outgoing officers and council leader Gary Porter said staff were probably leaving “at the height” of the pension scheme before proposed Government changes.

The council expects to save enough from the Breckland merger to deliver its current budget – but does have the option to dip into its reserves if necessary.

The authority is still in negotiations with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to avoid a £280,000 VAT bill for the way it paid for the new Red Lion Quarter.

The deal caught the attention of HMRC’s anti-avoidance rules, leaving the possiblility of a big bill, but the Lincolnshire Free Press understands that MP John Hayes has lobbied chancellor George Osborne over the matter and negotiations are under way to find to solve the matter.

Coun Przyszlak said: “The anti-avoidance measures that the previous Government brought in weren’t designed to catch that sort of contract. I am hopeful that that will be resolved.”

The £1.9million reduction in funding is partly offset by the fact that some services are transferred to Lincolnshire County Council.

The freeze in council tax bills, prompted by a Government grant, means that the overall band D council tax level for 2011/12 will be set at £1,430.04, with South Holland’s portion of that amounting to £157.03.

The budget deal also sees average weekly rents at council houses jump from £60.96 this year to £65.21 next year.

The council hopes to save £300,000 through “efficiency savings” in 2011/12 and the years to follow.