Council facing £500,000 hole in its budget

A FURTHER substantial cut in Government grant has left Rother District Council with a £500,000 shortfall in its budget.

On Monday a joint meeting of its scrutiny committees began the task of identifying possible savings in the council budget for 2013-14.

Tory-led Rother has already made savings of £1.7 million over the past two years in response to Whitehall tightening its purse strings and reducing grants to the council by some 30 per cent.

This has been done by changing working practices, signing joint contracts with other councils, devolving services and selling buildings.

More than 30 posts have been shed, despite the council already having one of the lowest staffing levels in south-east England.

Areas now being looked at for savings again include staffing, together with leisure provision, public toilets, tourism and training.

Committee members also asked for more detail on the possibility of reducing councillor numbers through boundary reform and generating more income through the planning process.

Officials were keen to stress that reducing the budget does not necessarily mean services being axed, although the ways in which some services are delivered and their extent could change.

Rother has the lowest council tax in East Sussex and, through public consultation, has been asking residents how they think savings could be made.

Chief executive Derek Stevens said: “There is no doubt that councillors are facing some very difficult choices.

“The budget is being discussed in broad terms at this early stage, but as we go through the budget-setting process it is inevitable that many council services will come under extremely close scrutiny.”

Mr Stevens added: “Despite making huge savings in the past two years through a range of methods, the level of grant reduction means we are still faced with the difficult task of creating a balanced budget - there simply isn’t enough money to keep doing things the way we have.

“This budget is particularly difficult to achieve, as we have always prided ourselves on the low cost of service delivery.”

Rother District Council serves some 90,000 people over almost 200 square miles. Just under half this figure live in Bexhill.

It employs around 200 staff and delivers more than 60 services to its residents and visitors at an annual cost of £60 million.

Services include leisure centres, parks and gardens, toilets, planning, housing, environmental health, waste and rubbish collections, tourism and election services.

The scrutiny committees’ recommendations will be considered by the Cabinet before coming before the full council.