An end to free parking? Closure of a leisure centre? Community House axed? Toilets threatened? Bin collections changed? All under review as Fenland Council looks to save £1.8m
- Credit: Archant
An end to free parking, abolition of the youth council, longer periods between brown bin collections and scrapping some of its PR work form part of a package of proposals being considered by Fenland Council.
Subsidies to concessionary bus travel, axing the Community House in Wisbech, reducing the amount spent on tourism, closing one-stop shops, and possibly even closing one of its leisure centres are also up for debate.
Some of the costs involved will create a surprise – the youth council for instance meets six times a year, has a grant scheme of £7,500 but costs £56,000 a year to run mainly because of officer time deployed to help with it. .
No decisions have yet been taken but the outcome of a comprehensive spending review – handed to councillors yesterday and to be made public later today- offers thoughts on where cuts are possible or where income can be found.
What will likely have surprised officers is not just the numbers who replied to a recent survey on possible savings but where people thought savings could be made.
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The council said it wanted to find a further £1.8million of savings over the next three years – but this figure could rise if government grants drop.
In total 6,361 consultation surveys were completed, equating to a response rate of 14 per cent.
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On the possibility of paying to park this was not as contentious as many councillors have always believed.
“The majority of respondents who commented on car parks suggested introducing a small car parking charge (or reduce the number of free car parks) to cover maintenance costs and generate revenue,” says a 160 page report summarising the spending review.
“However, some respondents were concerned that introducing a charge would damage the local economy and would encourage people to park irresponsibly
elsewhere. Others suggested that a traffic warden was required to tackle the problem of irresponsible parking, with enforcement fines covering the cost of the service.”
Fenland Council has a car parking budget of £322,500 and is principally made up of £40,000 for repairs and maintenance, winter gritting and maintenance), utilities, grounds maintenance, cleansing and capital financing.
One of its few income streams is the £1,500 it gets annually from fixed penalty notices on March market place.
The council operates 20 car parks, of which two are leased, but officers believe there is “a latent requirement for capital investment to address the deteriorating condition of some of our larger car parks which are becoming difficult to maintain and keep safe with existing revenue budgets - this is estimated at approx £1million”. With no provision in the current capital budget this represents a dilemma for the council.
The FDC parking provision is the most costly in Cambridgeshire and ranks 339 of 353 local authorities nationally in cost of the service.
“Most local authorities do not run car parking at a deficit, with 94 per cent charging for car parking,” says the report. Income would depend on the arrangement introduced but previous studies have shown a 25p an hour charge could generate an operating surplus of £400,000 a year. If it were to be 50p then the council could raise £1.26million, even allowing for the first 30 minutes free.
The council would need to spend £1million over two years to introduce the pay machines; it could also trigger a reaction from the county council who might charge for off street parking.
Also being considered is reducing concessionary bus fares and other transport measures although the council admits Fenland already has poor transport links and these are seen as a “barrier to access of services for the community”.
On communications the council recommends axing the £3,000 a year it pays for monthly for a page in a local free sheet.
One of the more revolutionary options is the proposal to directly fund development, principally housing, on council owned land. The idea would be to set up a housing property company to build homes either for rent or for sale.
“Sites for consideration include the remaining Nene Waterfront land and Coalwharf Road site in Wisbech,” says the report.
The big spending refuse service could find itself targeted for cuts and various options are being considered.
Garden waste, for example, could be collected 20 times a year rather than 26 and this could save £70,000, although jobs could be lost.
If the council was to end all garden waste collections – a discretionary not statutory function- the savings could total £600,000 a year. A ‘self funding’ option is also being considered, a scheme adopted by half of the country’s local councils. Residents would be drawn into a not for profit charge in the region of £40 a year to allow it to become separate from refuse and recycling.
Public toilets could also feel the council’s axe and these could be handed over to others to run – as happened in Wisbech where the town council took over some local toilets.
Leisure centres are a big drain on the council’s resources and setting up a trust, developing a local authority company, wholly or partly owned by the council, could run them. They might even be offered to the private sector.
“Subject to consultation, and a more detailed options appraisal, it is estimated that service costs could be reduced considerably if the council externalised the provision of leisure services,” says the report. Several hundred thousand pounds could be saved in a full year
“New opportunities to reduce operating costs and secure increased market share” are possible. Further investigation and market testing is required to develop a
business case, says the council.
“It is estimated that set up costs of up to £100,000 would be incurred in any externalisation of the service, with a lead time of 12 months to make such a change,” says the report.
An option – possible closure of one leisure centres- is also being discussed.
“Although closing a centre appears a simple way to reduce costs, the facility mix within each centre means that specific parts of each centre generate a loss, whilst others generate a profit,” says the report.
“Any closure would also require the demolition or alternative use of the building and those associated costs in order to avoid significant NNDR (business rates) burden from an unused building in future years,” says the report. .
Many non statutory services provided by the council – including support for a migrant night shelter, tourism, 69 business starter factories, CCTV (it runs 50 cameras) and town events – will be reviewed.
In the recent survey residents were asked to look at a list of 19 services provided by Fenland Council. They were then asked to select which services that it would be “most acceptable” for costs to be reduced and to tick a minimum of six.
The top six were (in order of preference):
1. Managing Wisbech Port, including its leisure mooring facilities
2. Offering grants, funding and support to the community
3. Supporting local markets and community events
4. Providing flexible and affordable business facilities
5. Promoting Fenland as a tourism destination
6. Helping people to access the benefits they are entitled to