Members of Arun District Council have criticised a lack of detail about savings in the new financial strategy.
The council voted to approve its medium term financial strategy for 2024/28 at a full council meeting on Wednesday, January 10, amidst criticism from Tory members not enough detail was provided about where identified savings of £2.1 million for 2024 would come from.
The strategy showed the areas in which the council would be making savings, such as restructuring and shrinking its senior management team and potentially increasing cemetery fees, but did not show exact figures for each area.
Previously, the council’s Head of Finance, Antony Baden, said the council would need to make ‘tough decisions’ to recover from spirally budget deficits by 2029 – with its reserves expected to drop from roughly £25 million currently to £200,000 in 2029 if no further action is taken.
Opposition Leader Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) and Keir Greenway (Con, Bersted) proposed a motion to ‘provide to all members full details of all proposed cost savings’ for the 2024/25 budget and the effects on services, which passed unanimously at the meeting.
Mr Gunner said this motion showed members felt there was not enough information currently available to make an informed decision on the proposed strategy, asking the decision on the motion to be deferred to the next full council meeting in February.
He said: “I hear from some councillors that apparently this is so urgent we must do this now, in which case if it was so urgent why didn’t we do it back in November? Are councillors really convinced one month will make much difference?
“I think the public and any press watching would be horrified to know that there are £2 million of cuts that councillors are having next to no say on and this is their chance to get more information.”
Lesley Ann-Lloyd (Con, Rustington West) said as an elected member for her constituents she did not feel she was able to vote without all the information necessary.
She said: “I keep hearing people mentioning the strategy, I haven’t seen a strategy, I’ve seen a briefing document which is some slides, so I don’t feel I’m able to vote on something I haven’t seen.”
Steve McAullife (Green, Arundel and Walberton) said he did not ‘feel comfortable’ voting for savings, specifically removing officer posts to cut costs, without all the information available – rebelling against the cross-party administration and other members of the Green party.
Deputy Council Leader Roger Nash (Lab, Pevensey) said deferral would be ‘foolhardy’ and that the ‘tough decisions’ needed to be made, adding they had seen ‘lots of information’ so far, especially compared to previous years.
He said: “We know what we have to do, we know [these] challenges that are facing us – I think it would be an absolutely retrograde step to defer this. We need to move forward and we need to take the decisions, the tough decisions that have been talked about.”
Simon McDougall (Lab, Pevensey) said the strategy was only a ‘framework for potential options’ open to the council on budget decisions and savings over four years.
He said: “I wasn’t here for the last eight years, but I know one thing is for certain, some decisions should have been taken by the previous administration over the [previous] four years.
“Some of these cuts should have been made, one of them was a political choice because we had an election last year – the officers are moving us in the correct position for where we need to go over the next four years, you’ve gotta set the sail somewhere and start making savings.
Francis Oppler (LDem, Orchid) claimed the Tories were attempting to undermine the council by moving to defer the strategy, saying it was a ‘wrecking motion’ based on ‘political motives’ and ‘cheap soundbites’.
He said: “The conservative group want to wreck the budget process, pure and simple – I’ve seen something like 28 budgets, the flow of information on this year’s budget far exceeds anything we’ve had in previous years.”
The strategy was approved with 27 members voting for and 20 abstaining.