The Council's 2005/2006 budget can be balanced without raising car park charges by 25% : 19 January 2005

I found this year’s budget proposals very disappointing. The approach has no vision or imagination, and members were virtually given no options – just the opportunity to tinker with a few figures here and there.

It is wrongly assumed that the starting point has to be a reduction of services. No thought is given to find better and cheaper ways of providing the same services and the same level of service.

We had to find 337,000 to make the budget balance, in order to avoid a tax increase of more than 3%. How was this to be achieved? Well, mainly by raising car park charges by 25%.

Now car park fees in Ryedale has always been a political hot potato. The issue is not about comparisons between the different charges levied in Ryedale, Scarborough and York: the issue in Malton and Norton is the difference in car park charges between the Town Centres and free parking at Morrisons. If the district wants vibrant shopping centres, there is no sense in raising charges to a level which discourages people from parking near them, and sends them off to the Superstores.

This argument has been going on for years, and one would have thought that officers and members would have avoided this issue like the plague. Not so: the officers recommended it and 20 out of 26 members present voted to increase car park charges by 25%

Now it is all very well to criticise others, if one cannot come up with a credible alternative. So let me explain an option Ryedale Residents have been working on.

Consider natural wastage, and you will find that, over the last three years, on average each year there have been about 30 leavers - last year with average costs of about 15,000 each. Now, if 14 of those posts had not been replaced, the Council would have made efficiency savings of 210,000 – which corresponds to the amount the officers sought to recover by raising car park charges.

My first proposal is to set up a personnel sub-committee, and task it with the job of reducing the cost of staff by at least 210,000 over the next 12 months by natural wastage.

In other words, every time a member of staff leaves the authority, his/her job should be analysed by members and officers to see if it can be done in another way by other people, without making a replacement.

Our second proposal is that, as a one off – and not to be repeated next year – provision should be made to use up to 210,000 out of the interest on our reserves to cover this year’s shortfall only.

We would delay filling each of the posts which will still have to be replaced by at least three months. This will save about 25,000.

So, in this way, the Council will have found 235,000 of the required 337,000.

As regards the remaining 100,000:

We would agree to transfer grass cutting to North Yorkshire with a saving of 20,000.

We are totally against any increase in car parking charges except in regard to excess charges, where we would put the charge up to 90, subject to payment of 45 if the ticket is paid within 7 days. This would raise 25,000

This leaves 57,000 to find.

This brings me to the recycling bid of 150,000. I understand that, of this, 50,000 is a contribution to the Repairs and Renewals Reserve. We don’t see why this is necessary. It’s just a book keeping entry. We have enough money in reserves already. So, why do we need to put more money into it from the Council Tax?

That leaves 7,000.

We would strongly oppose any reduction in the Tourist Information Centres, as we regard these as essential for tourism in Ryedale. However, we would agree the proposal to move the Malton and Helmsley TIC’s to different premises, with a saving of 36,000, if this can be done without any detriment to tourism.

This is the alternative budget which we put forward to the meeting and which the meeting ignored. It can be achieved without any reduction of services, without any increase in car parking charges (except excess charges), and without any compulsory redundancies. The Ryedale Festival can continue, and no public toilet need be closed

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