Cannock Chase Council is considering ways to save money over the next two years as costs rise – but a number of its proposals have sparked concern for some community leaders.
Members of a council scrutiny committee heard on January 30 that introducing charges for parking at Rugeley Town and Hednesford railway stations would bring them into line with the Cannock station car park and save the authority up to £38,000 across the the two sites in 2024/25.
Councillor Andrea Muckley questioned how many people would pay to use the Hednesford station car park however as there are car parks in the area that are free and closer to the town centre.
The Museum of Cannock Chase is currently located at the former Valley Colliery at Hednesford, which later became a mining training centre. Relocating the attraction to another building managed by Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles, which runs leisure and cultural services on behalf of the council, could save the authority £100,000 in 2024/25, a report revealed.
Councillor Muckley said: “I’m exceedingly concerned about that – the whole point is it’s on the site where the last mine closed. It’s part of the heritage of people in the local area.”
Councillor Tony Johnson said: “I share these concerns. My grandad used to work there
“It is an award-winning facility and one of the best small museums in the country. How much will it cost to maintain a mothballed building, given its propensity to be vandalised?”
Councillor Robert Hughes, innovation and resources portfolio leader, responded: “There is nothing to stop it continuing being an award-winning museum – just in a different location. We are not going out of our way to annoy people – these savings are having to be made out of necessity.
“As you will know there is a budget shortfall and there isn’t a magic money tree, the money has to come from somewhere. I can only invite you to put forward your own budget which will mitigate the savings you disagree with.”
Councillor Justin Johnson, environment and climate change portfolio leader, said: “My dad was a miner. What we are proposing is not to get rid of it completely but for it to be moved.
“Historically Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley haven’t been a mining community for decades. Rugeley is a market town historically.
“We are trying to do what we can to combat this budget shortfall. We are not getting rid of it but it saves money to move it.”
Council deputy leader Bryan Jones, who was just 15 when he started at the former Valley Training Centre, said: “The museum is about the contents of the building rather than the building itself. I accept the building has heritage in its own right but it’s imperative we save the contents of the building – I’m not fazed if it’s not in the Valley Training Centre.”
The amount of discount available on leisure facilities run by IHL is also up for review. Currently there is a 50 per cent concession available for eligible residents, but this could be cut to 40 per cent, which is estimated to save around £70,000 in each of the next two years.
A proposed move from free tennis court provision to a chargeable system – part of a requirement to secure funding for refurbishment – has already been called into question by some councillors. And Brereton representative Councillor Paul Fisher spoke of potential consequences for the facilities at Ravenhill Park if residents have to pay to use them.
He said: “It will never get used and it will be obsolete. We are in a deprived area in Brereton and Ravenhill.”
Currently collection of garden waste is also a free service for Cannock Chase residents. But from 2024 Cannock Chase Council could follow other neighbouring authorities in Stafford and South Staffordshire by introducing an optional charge.
Members of the Responsible Council Scrutiny Committee heard on Monday that a consultation would be required on bringing in garden waste collection charges. A fee of around £35 is being considered, which would be similar to the current £36 annual charge introduced by Stafford Borough Council in 2021.
Another cost-cutting measure could see waste collection calendars moving from paper-based to digital, which is estimated to save £32,000 between 2023 and 2025. But Councillor Muckley said: “A lot of people don’t have access to computers and don’t use them on a daily basis – I’m concerned those people will be left out if the waste calendar goes 100 per cent digital.”
Councillor Hughes responded: “It would become an opt-in scheme. If you need a paper calendar you could collect one from the civic centre or contact the council to have a hard copy.”
If the proposed savings are approved they could save the council £902,000 in 2023/24 and £2.1m in 2024/25. The authority is also looking to increase council tax by 2.99 per cent in 2023/24, which would mean Band D households pay an extra 13p per week for district council services.
Council leader Olivia Lyons said: “These are exceptionally difficult times for local government – as they are for local residents who rely on our services. The challenging decisions we have taken in relation to savings and the use of reserves in the short term will enable us to balance the budget this year.
“We have prioritised protecting frontline services for our residents but in order to do this it will be necessary to review some of the discretionary services. These decisions are not easy and our goal is to ensure we protect frontline services for local residents and ensure best value for the taxpayer.”