‘Failure is not an option’ warns St Albans council leader

St Albans City and District Council

St Albans City and District Council - Credit: Archant

THE proposed introduction of £1.1 million worth of new and increased fees for everything from the splash park in Verulamium Park to hiring out open spaces has been ridiculed as “daft and incoherent”.

But the executive leader of St Albans district council (SADC) Cllr Julian Daly has hit back, warning that failure to bring in a plethora of such fees could result in the need to make more staff redundant.

The council is facing a £1.1 million black hole, mainly because of a slashed government grant, for 2014/15. At last Thursday’s cabinet meeting councillors discussed the proposed budget savings, essentially a long list of new charges and increased fees.

It includes reducing the number of public toilets, charging children £1 to use the splash park and increasing admission charges at Verulamium Museum.

Cllr Daly said: “We want to close the gap without making staff redundant, and this allows us do to that.”

Cllr Alec Campbell added: “It gives us zero per cent increase in council tax, and that is what we are aiming for. But it’s not set in stone yet.”

Following restructuring two years ago, when 70 full-time posts were chopped, SADC was left with fewer departments and 350 full-time equivalent posts. Savings in staffing costs will total £4.2 million over five years from April 2012.

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Cllr Tony Swendell said he had concerns about raising car parking fees at council-run car parks in St Albans and Harpenden, including at Westminster Lodge.

He added: “We are in a city which is having a rough old time and we want to attract people to the city, not put them off.”

Cllr Beric Read said the car park at Amenbury Lane in Harpenden was being “abused” by visitors who did not use the town’s leisure facilities. The council hoped to change the way the parking is subsidised and save £32,000 by operating a permit system for the disabled, and gym members.

In regards to reducing the number of public toilets in the city, Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles said he did not have a “hit list” of those which might be closed.

But, he explained, toilets cost the council “an awful lot of money,” particularly as some are regularly vandalised, while others need to be updated. Refurbishing the likes of the Spicer Street facilities would cost £70,000.

He wants a review of the public toilets to see if alternatives could be used, for example in supermarkets and other local businesses.

However after the meeting the Lib Dem lead on the budget, Cllr Chris White, said: “It is difficult to imagine a more incoherent set of proposals.

“We were told that museum charges are needed for some reason to be brought into line with other districts.

“How daft do they think we are? If this is a vision for St Albans then I’m from Planet Zod!”

Cllr Daly said that introducing a £1 Sunday charge at council-run car parks would bring them in line with private car parks in the Maltings and Christopher Place, along with Hemel Hempstead and Watford.

He added: “Retail businesses don’t like the current message that some car parks are free on Sundays and some cost £1; good luck driving around to find them.”

The charge for visitors travelling from outside St Albans to view our museums would “be the first increase in 10 years”.