SAVE THE CONNAUGHT Worthing council leader talks budgets

Paul Yallop

Paul Yallop

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PAUL YALLOP, leader of Worthing Borough Council, has borne the brunt of campaigners’ criticism since the Herald exclusively revealed details of secret Town Hall talks to close the Connaught Theatre.

The Assembly Hall has also been threatened with the axe as the council battles to slash a £1.2 million a year subsidy to the town’s entertainment venues in the face of national cutbacks.

With protests mounting, and local elections looming, the Herald gives Mr Yallop the right to reply.

Funding cuts

“FOLLOWING repeated below-inflation government grant settlements the council has been making savings in administration costs for a number of years.

“The coalition government has now announced a reduction in our funding of 28 per cent over a four-year period.

“The recent two-year grant settlement has shown that most of our reduction will be implemented in the first two years.

“We are told, unofficially, that funding will never return to its previous levels. We must cut our cloth accordingly.

“We have worked hard to reduce costs in the Town Hall. Senior management costs for 2011 will be more than 43 per cent lower than they were in 2007. That represents a saving of more than half-a-million pounds a year.

Recruitment freeze

“We have implemented a staff vacancy freeze which means only critical posts are filled when employees leave.

“This, together with some voluntary redundancies, has seen the number of staff employed by Adur and Worthing councils reduced by eight per cent over the past 18 months.

“Where posts do need to be filled we have recruited internally to reduce the risk of compulsory redundancies.

“For 2011 we have set a balanced budget with minimal disturbance to frontline services.

“The government provided us with funding to freeze council tax which is a welcome relief to hard-pressed households.

“Had we chosen to refuse the ‘freeze funding’ we would have needed to increase council tax by 2.5 per cent just to stand still.

Difficult times

“Next year we face an expected budget deficit of £1.9 million. It is getting very difficult to absorb repetitive government grant cuts without impacting our frontline services.

“As community leaders, councillors face very difficult decisions. Our recent budget engagement exercise saw refuse collection, street sweeping, and public toilets as areas residents wish to see protected.

“That means other service areas will need to take a greater share of the cuts.

“The same has happened nationally where the NHS has been protected at the expense of local government.

“It is important for the public of Worthing to understand the issues. It would also be helpful for them to engage with their council and help identify a solution.

Subsidising losses

“Protests have been held up and down the country where local councillors are being blamed for the problems.

“That seems unfair as the problem was caused by a lack of regulation in the banking industry.

“The national debt has to be dealt with and local politicians are doing their best to lead their communities through troubled times.

“I have received a number of letters with regard to saving Worthing theatres. Several have been from residents outside of the borough.

“It is Worthing Borough Council taxpayers who are subsidising losses of £1.2m a year in the three venues.

“These losses represent 15 per cent of our council tax collections.

“Those who wish to preserve the status quo could help the situation by increasing their attendance. If the venues were better supported by the public they could run at a profit.

Big Society

“We have not taken any decisions and are happy to hear what is said by all parties. However, having spent a good deal of time reviewing all the options, sadly one must conclude that something will have to give.

“On a personal basis, I would like to encourage the ‘Big Society’ bid being led by local theatres’ expert Jon Woodley.

“It reminds me of the Dome which was saved by a similar scheme.”

A total of 9,374 people had, by Tuesday lunchtime, signed Save Our Theatres petitions.