Cabinet agrees amendment to budget after considering alternative proposals

Senior councillors have agreed to add an ongoing £50,000 maintenance pot for parks and open spaces into a Staffordshire council’s budget – after the proposal was put forward by opposition group members.

Cannock Chase Council
Cannock Chase Council

Cannock Chase Council considered the authority’s budget at a meeting last week, where two proposals were put forward by the controlling Labour group and the opposition Conservative group.

The opposition group narrowly won a vote to get their alternative budget considered by the cabinet at a later meeting.

On Wednesday cabinet members considered the alternative budget proposals. They agreed to the addition of an ongoing maintenance fund towards the upkeep of the district’s play areas and open spaces.

The next full council meeting is due to take place on February 24, when members will be asked to consider the recommendations made at the latest cabinet meeting, as well as setting the council tax levels for 2021/22.

Speaking at last week’s full meeting, opposition group leader Councillor Olivia Lyons said: “Last year, and many times since them, I have repeated the importance of well-maintained parks and open green spaces. Over the past year, this has become more apparent than ever – they are crucial for childhood development, mental wellbeing and just enjoying outdoors.

“Parks are a community asset, they influence house prices, help conserve eco-systems, filter pollution and benefit local wildlife. If green spaces are left to dilapidate, they foster crime and illegal activity. Sadly, we see this locally.

'Desperately needed'

“Over the last year and between lockdowns, I have volunteered amongst others to paint Elmore Park, Springfield’s Park with Councillor Johnson, Chester Road Park and Flaxley Road Park with Councillor Hughes. I know that Councillor Thompson got the brushes out in Heath Hayes and many of our councillors joined her. This is great and, personally, it is a joy to help improve our area.

“Many local parks were built beautifully with developer contributions, transferred into council ownership and left to rot. I politely ask, shouldn’t the council also care about our local area?

“I believe that the creation of this ongoing parks budget is desperately needed. I once again propose we pump prime the fund with a £50,000 boost this year and £25,000 each year moving forwards. This can be reviewed as and when necessary.”

Other proposals put forward in the alternative budget included expanding the number of services the council shares with other authorities, as well as ‘hot desking’- which would enable council staff to share the same working facilities by using them at different times – and reviewing use of council office space to improve efficiency and cut costs.

There was also a proposal to scrap the £400 a year members’ IT allowance and replace it tablets and training.

The controlling group’s budget has instead proposed that new members elected to the council from May 2021 onwards be given tablets and training, with existing councillors able to opt into the scheme or continue to receive the IT allowance.

Refurbishment

Council leader George Adamson, speaking at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, said: “We, as a council, need to live within our means. Council finances are not the bottomless pit people think they are.

“Last week we put forward what we thought was a sensible and prudent budget, to meet needs which arise while protecting services and keeping council tax increase at a low level.

“I am going to propose an amendment and resolve we have an inclusion of £50,000 for the refurbishment of play areas and leisure facilities. Application is to be based on areas most in need. Bringing them up to a decent standard seems to be the sensible way to do it.

“We are already planning the use of shared services. Since last March officers have been working extremely well from home and we need to see how we can work on this.

“We will not be hot-desking. During the pandemic it is illegal and it’s dangerous. Staff safety is important.”

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