LEADER'S COLUMN - Simon Geraghty

By Simon Geraghty Friday 08 February 2013 Updated: 08/02 09:59

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Council leader Simon Geraghty. (s)

AT WORCESTER City Council thoughts are firmly focused on the process of setting the budget and Council Tax for the next financial year.

We launched our package of proposals for consultation back in December based on our best forecasts for the savings needed over the next two years.

Our plans are based on freezing Council Tax for the third consecutive year running whilst still aiming to protect essential public services. We have been able to find £686,000 of savings next year rising to £1.2 million for 2014/15 by building the budget from the bottom up.

Working with managers and their teams, they have put forward ways to reduce costs, generate extra income or modify services to make them more efficient. This approach means I’m confident that these savings can be delivered whilst minimising the impact on you.

I also believe that it would be morally wrong to increase the burden on hard pressed households when family budgets are already under real pressure and that’s why it’s right to freeze Council Tax again.

It’s our job to ensure the council lives within its means but I have to be honest this is not a view shared by all.

Unfortunately my party, the Conservatives, don’t have an overall majority on the council and so there is a risk that other political parties may amend the budget and force up Council Tax unnecessarily.

On a brighter note, the budget also makes provision for new money to support the economy, invest in our infrastructure and regeneration projects and deliver more affordable housing.

This money is available as we haven chosen to protect a bonus the government provides for each new home built in the city.

The New Homes Bonus is worth over £1 million next year alone and we want to invest it to make Worcester an even better place.

The two schemes in particular we would like to see completed are finishing off the riverside improvements and resurfacing the High Street between Pump Street and the Elgar Statue.

The riverside is a real asset to the city, and has been improved thanks to previous investments, but there are still sections that need to be completed.

Likewise, the High Street is the heart of our retail economy and is used by thousands every day. The retail economy is under pressure and if we don’t invest to ensure our city centre looks at its best we will lose out to other locations - putting jobs at risk.

More resources will be made available for economic initiatives to help small businesses grow, create jobs and support apprenticeships with other measures to improve skills and help people back to work. Some of the money will also be used to progress the work needed to build a new swimming pool for Worcester.

I hope this summary of our budget reassures you that we are dealing with the financial challenges whilst still striving to ensure the city continues to improve.

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