It is wonderful news that the ruling Conservative group on High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) have decided to abandon their plans to sell the Serpentine Farm site to housing developers.
It is wonderful news that the ruling Conservative group on High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) have decided to abandon their plans to sell the Serpentine Farm site to housing developers. They had claimed that HPBC was so short of money that this sale was essential to protect services. However last week HPBC’s accounts for 2017-18 were quietly published. The accounts reveal quite a different picture.
Last year HPBC spent less than they planned on services and grants and received considerably more money than they expected. This meant that at the end of the year HPBC had £1.6m of underspend. Despite the fact that the Conservatives running HPBC couldn’t spend all of last year’s money, they still increased this year’s council tax by the maximum amount possible. It is difficult to see how HPBC can claim they have insufficient funds and need to increase council tax, rates and parking fees when they haven’t been able to spend last year’s money.
This isn’t an isolated problem. In the three years since they came to power the Conservatives have left £2.2m unspent and, in the four years before that, Labour left more than £4m unspent. Clearly something is wrong if HPBC cannot accurately forecast income and expenditure and cannot react swiftly enough to take advantage of efficiency savings and higher than hoped for revenues.
It is simply unacceptable for local people and businesses to keep paying more and more each year to HPBC while services are cutback, even as literally millions of pounds lie idle in HPBC’s General Reserve account. We need councillors with the financial, risk and programme management skills to make sure that the maximum benefit is gained from every penny of council tax and that council tax, rates and charges are only increased when HPBC can demonstrate that they have wisely spent all of their budget.
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