Friday, 11 March 2011

Watching council coffers

HERE’s an admission. I think I was slightly (only slightly mind you) unfair to Lyme Regis Town Council last week when I commented in this column that there was little evidence of our councillors tightening their belts during the current financial climate.

Unlike their colleagues on the county and district councils, the town council has not been hit by the withdrawal of government funds because they don’t get any.

Whilst Dorset County Council and West Dorset District Council have been agonising over how to balance their books with the loss of jobs and services looming large on the radar, the town council have not been forced into any draconian action - yet!

But to be fair to our local councillors, that does not mean they are not keeping a watchful eye on their spending habits.

As chairman of the Strategy and Policy Committee, I know that Councillor Owen Lovell keeps a very close watch on the council budgets and a few decisions have been made in recent times which have been influenced by the uncertain times in which we live. The council decided not not to spend £6,000 on a report on the possible redevelopment of the Cobb Gate Square area as it could be seen as unnecessary expenditure at this time.

Councillor Daryl Turner, who as a member of the district council will be more than aware of the financial challenges facing local authorities, has urged his colleagues on the town council to adopt a more parsimonious approach to the public coffers.

And county councillor Colonel Geoffery Brierley has kept the town council fully aware that some of the items on their wish list are going to go on the back burner for some time whilst the county authority attempt to save £55 million over the new few years.

But I sometimes get the impression, listening to councillors insisting that Lyme gets its fair share from the public purse, that they are not really living in the real world.

Whilst everyone would like to see street lighting staying on all night, helping to make our streets safe during the dark hours, it seems to me that saving money on electricity is better than have to cut financial support for the care of the elderly or support for pre-school education or cutting library services. “Get real” is the phrase that comes to mind.

Lyme is going to have to swallow the bitter pill like all communities.

The town is fortunate that we retained so many of our assets when local government was reorganised in in 1974.

Our seafront undertakings have enabled the town over the years to keep its local council tax charge to a minimum and armchair critics like myself who are quick to criticise should appreciate that the town council finances are well controlled and that we certainly get value for money.

Lyme has the opportunity of strengthening its financial future by regaining more of the car parking land at Monmouth Beach next year when the district council lease runs out.

This could result in a large chunk of money going into the town council coffers, an opportunity surely not to be missed?


Another civic night to remember

I’VE forgotten the number of civic nights I’ve attended over the years and strangely I have no recollection whatsoever of my own.

But I do know I have not been to a more enjoyable and convivial civic night than Friday’s event, hosted by our Mayor, Councillor Michaela Ellis.

Michaela is an excellent organiser and puts a great deal into her big night of the year. She went to the trouble of making sure all the table decorations, etc, matched the colour of her new dress. On pages 6 and 7 I refer to her as the Lady in Red (anything for a good headline!) but it was nearer to orange and husband Alan even wore a bow tie to match.

Michaela presented a cheque to football club chairman Howard Larcombe (see above) for £730, making a total of over £1,500 raised for her chosen charity during her two-year term.

Howard brought along 15 other football club members, adding to the overall liveliness of the occasion, and the girls from Pride Of Lyme, as always, let their hair down.

Another night to remember.

WHILST I’m in such a complimentary mood, it would be churlish not to mention West Dorset District Council on two counts.

Firstly, for their success in getting technical approval for phase four of the multi-million pound coastal protection scheme, a major step towards the securing of the eastern access to the town and protection for hundreds of properties.

And secondly for fixing a budget for the next financial year which sees no increase in the district council tax. No mean feat in this age of cut and slash politics.

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