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Potholes over Playhouse say the Harlow public

Politics / Thu 11th Sep 2014 pm30 01:49pm

HARLOW Council has published the findings from its two-month public consultation on budget priorities as it plans for a future with less money.

The findings from the consultation, which ran from 1 July to 31 August 2013, will help inform the decisions Harlow Council will have to make in the wake of ongoing Government funding cuts.

A summary of the findings and the full report have been published on the Council’s website www.harlow.gov.uk/budget. Paper copies are available from the Civic Centre. Although the consultation has closed, the community can provide feedback on the findings by 24 September 2014 using an online form at budget consultation feedback.

There were two parts to the consultation – 489 surveys from randomly selected homes were completed which gives a statistically reliable sample of households in Harlow. A further 540 surveys were completed online and on paper by other residents or groups who wanted to have a say. The Council would like to thank everyone that took the time to complete the surveys and provide comments on the Council, its services and what it funds.

The survey included funding choices for services Harlow Council provides or pays for directly. This included services the Council is not legally obliged to provide, known as discretionary services, and those services the Council has to provide by law, known as statutory services.

Residents’ funding and service priorities were similar in both the household survey and the open survey. The headline findings were:

The majority of respondents said they wanted to see the Council’s services stay the same.

The Council has scored each service based on the number of responses it had for ceasing, reducing, or increasing service provision (cease was not an option for statutory services). Based on the scoring system used:

The discretionary services, which received the highest scores, were: parks, playgrounds and green spaces, regeneration of the town and reducing anti-social behaviour.

The discretionary services, which received the lowest scores were: Harlow Youth Council, sports and leisure, The Playhouse, paddling pools and grants to the voluntary and charity sector.

The statutory services, which scored the highest, were: road and pavement repairs (the majority of roads and pavements are owned by Essex County Council, however around one-quarter are maintained by Harlow Council), street cleaning and meeting housing need.

The statutory services, which scored the lowest, were: Local Council Tax Support, Planning, Licensing and the administration of Revenues & Benefits.

There were also questions on Council Tax levels and what residents’ priorities are for making Harlow a better place to live. The key findings were:

Half of respondents from the household survey felt that Harlow Council’s share of Council Tax should stay the same, 16% would agree to an increase but around a third (34%) would favour a decrease.

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents in the open survey felt that Harlow Council’s share of Council Tax should stay the same but the same number (39%) would agree to an increase with just over a fifth (22%) favouring a decrease.

The top five things respondents in both surveys cited as most important or in need of improvement to make Harlow a good place to live are: road and pavement repairs, reducing traffic congestion, providing affordable decent housing, local job prospects and the level of crime.

Residents were also asked for views on services that the Council didn’t currently provide. Nearly 400 suggestions were made, and the thing that topped this list was street lighting (even though provided by Essex County Council), followed by garden waste collections and provision of youth services.

Harlow Council continues to face difficult financial challenges as a result of the continued grant reductions from the Government. The Council’s Government grant, which funds nearly half (46%) of the Council’s services, has reduced by nearly 50% from 2011 to 2014/15. The current forecasts indicate that this situation will worsen with an expected further grant reduction of 16% in 2015/16 and 10% in 2016/17.

This means the Council is planning for a future with a lot less money to spend on services in Harlow. The Council has to save £5.3m over the next four years. In 2015/16 the Council will need to save £1.3m. Proposals for the 2015/16 budget will be announced in January 2015 as part of the Council’s normal budget setting process.

Councillor Jon Clempner, Leader of Harlow Council, said: “This is the first time the Council has run a consultation of this size on such an important issue, and reflects the desire to be open and transparent on the decisions we have to make. I would like to thank the many residents who took part and told us what their budget choices would be. We have some challenging decisions ahead of us. Having a picture of what services are the most important to the community will help with those decisions. This consultation is the start of an ongoing conversation with the community about the budget challenges the Council faces and the services the Council funds for the town and its residents.

“Now the results are published I‘d like the community to provide feedback and comments. I want to be clear that no decisions on the future of any service have yet been made, and we will not rush into short-term decisions. We will follow the Council’s normal budget setting process, taking into account the consultation, the money available to the Council, the constraints placed on us on how we spend it, the need for the finances to be sustainable in the medium to long term, and ensuring fairness for all for Harlow’s residents.

“I welcome the fact that residents share my view that they want to see a positive, visible difference to Harlow, in areas such as parks, playgrounds and open spaces, and in street cleaning. While progress has already been made in this area, we will certainly be taking into account these views when setting next year’s budget.

“This consultation has been about the Administration finding out what the community thinks the Council should directly provide or fund in the future. The Administration will now take time to consider its priorities and will also be thinking about delivering or funding services in different ways, in a way that is sustainable and fair, and reflects as much as is possible the views of residents.

“There will be much work for the Administration to do in the coming months as it prepares its 2015/16 budget proposals and considers the longer term priorities and financial plans for the Council.”

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