You will have seen in the national news that several councils around the country have had to effectively declare themselves bankrupt.
Soaring costs and tumbling revenues have seen even some of the biggest authorities in England issue a Section 114 order – which is industry jargon for a council that can offer nothing more than the most basic statutory services.
Let me be clear that there is absolutely no comparison between East Hampshire District Council (EHDC) – well run and on a sound financial footing – and those impoverished authorities that cannot balance their own budgets.
EHDC has a long track record of making good financial decisions to safeguard the strength of the organisation and the quality of the services it provides. We have never baulked from taking those difficult decisions and I can promise that will continue.
That’s why this year we have proposed a series of increases across all our fees and charges. This includes car parks, cemeteries, legal services, pre-application advice for planning and other services bought direct from the council.
If approved, car parks charges will increase between 25 and 30 per cent, depending on the time required, and other services will go up around ten per cent.
We are always as transparent and upfront with our decisions as we can be – and I am doing the same here.
The truth is that, like everyone else, we cannot control the global factors that affected the economy, but we need to face them and we need to respond in a responsible way.
Under political pressure to deliver with less, some councils have shied away from unpopular price increases in the past, instead choosing short term popularity over long term prosperity.
What their financial woes show is just how difficult the financial climate has been for councils. For more than a decade dwindling Government funding has torn a hole in public sector finances which councils have struggled to patch up.
Everyone is finding life difficult right now, so this will disappoint some people. I understand that. But it is the right thing to do, both for EHDC and for our residents.
Leadership is not just about doing the easy thing – you must take the tough decisions too.
The money raised by these fees and charges goes straight to vital front-line services, it secures the council against an uncertain future and protects the public from the disasters we have seen elsewhere in the country.
Even with these increases prices are still comparable with neighbouring authorities, with many not having seen a significant shift for many years.
Car parking is a case in point. The last price rise was in 2017, six years ago. The increase we propose is equivalent to the same increase in inflation across that period.
The decisions have not yet been fully finalised, with the new figures going through the necessary processes in November.
None-the-less, I know what people want most from their council is for it to be up front about its plans, and we always try to do that. You will be able to see the full list of price increases on our website from Wednesday, November 1.