Council tax freeze for third year in row

A third consecutive council tax freeze and a £4.6m investment programme have been unveiled in Crawley Borough Council’s 2013/14 budget.

Residents should not see any council tax rise with Sussex Police and West Sussex County Council indicating an intention to freeze the tax.

But despite a balanced budget, a healthy spending programme and protection of frontline services the council warned of a financial gap of £1.8m for 2014/15.

A report to cabinet stated: “Despite the healthy level of reserves, it is unlikely that it will be able to continue to achieve a balanced budget and maintain current services levels.”

The council will pay for some items by switching funding pots to plug a nearly £1 million reduction in its Government settlement.

It has had just weeks to put together the budget after learning of the cut in January.

Meanwhile the council will look into building a new access road to Tilgate Park at an estimated cost of £1 million to improve parking and traffic for Tilgate residents. Other capital investment proposals include solar panels on the Town Hall (£240,000) and a combined heat and power plant at K2 Crawley to produce local energy (£650,000).

An increase in homelessness over the past three years has led to savings of £130,000 being scrapped and £100,000 added to the homeless services budget.

The budget will go before cabinet tonight (Wednesday February 13).

Council leader Bob Lanzer said: “I think it will be more challenging going forward, the gap will be more difficult to bridge. We will have to work hard to keep the good track record going.”

Cllr Peter Lamb, leader of the Labour group, said: “The local finance settlement came out very late so many of the items are short-term fixes. In effect we can no longer claim to have a balanced budget, it’s really a piece of creative accountancy. Rather than this obsessive attempt each year to keep a balanced budget they should look at more long-term solutions.”