St Albans Council makes plans to cut its costs

NO increase is planned in the district’s share of this year’s council tax bills – and the cabinet has agreed to substantially reduce its own costs to help balance the books.

At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, council leader Robert Donald announced a raft of measures to cut the costs of democracy including reducing the number of portfolio holders to seven, freezing councillors’ allowances, reducing the number of committees, reducing the number of officers and support staff attending meetings and – subject to Boundary Commission approval – cutting the number of elected councillors to two per ward.

Currently all wards have three councillors with the exception of Colney Heath and Sandridge which have two.

Cllr Donald, in his budget speech to cabinet at which he pledged not to increase the district’s 11 per cent share of overall council tax bills for the third year in succession, said the measures would save between �100,000 and �200,000 over three years.

And he added: “It is the right thing to do to say to residents that we are in this with you.”

St Albans council has had a 29 per cent cut in its central government grant which means it has had to find savings and efficiencies amounting to �2.2 million.

Among its cost-cutting measures are an organisational restructuring which will see 27 council posts being made redundant.

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But, Cllr Donald said, the restructuring would not mean a cut in the number and quality of services which were provided to the district’s residents and he pledged to continue to protect the most vulnerable in the community.

He went on: “There will be no major cuts in services although there will be some inevitable increase in fees and charges such as parking permits but I can say there will not be swingeing increases in parking charges across the board for our residents.”

The cabinet agreed an increase of 7.4 per cent in council house rents although Cllr Donald bemoaned the fact that the size of the increase was now out of the council’s hands. He said: “We would like to keep rent increases down to RPI but this council and cabinet no longer has control over the setting of rents. That decision has been taken out of our hands by the Treasury.”

Overall council tax bills in Hertfordshire are made up a 77 per cent county council precept, 10 per police authority precept and two per cent town and parish council precepts as well as the district council’s 11 per cent.

n Harpenden town council’s precept will be reduced by 2.25 per cent this year for people living in the town.

A delighted Cllr Mike Weaver, chair of the policy and finance committee, described it as “a cut above the rest” and pledged it would not mean any reduction in services.

He commended the town council for working, “tirelessly to see how and where the [tax] burden could be reduced.”

And he went on: “This has been achieved by scrutinising all expenditure, prioritising all commitments and making every single saving where it could be made. Broadly one could say ‘luxuries’ are out, like old-style civic visits, whilst the quality of essential services is not affected at all.”