West Sussex County Council income shortfall

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A big shortfall in West Sussex County Council’s expected income from an increase in on-street parking charges has been blamed on motorists ‘voting with their wheels.’

The county policy and resources select committee was told it was intended to use parking cash to help improve access to public transport, through subsidising the non-commercial bus network.

In July last year, a £500,000 charge against the parking account was established for this purpose.

This year, the amount was expected to increase by a further £200,000 to reflect the impact of the full-year effect of the parking charge increase.

“However, the parking account experienced a £200,000 shortfall last year, and with parking habits unlikely to change, a similar shortfall is expected this year,” said a report presented at the committee meeting.

With the parking account at risk of going overdrawn next year, the sustainability of the additional £200,000 had been called into question.

Cllr Michael Brown, cabinet member for finance and resources, said motorists were voting with their wheels and reluctant to pay the higher charge.

In the short term, there might be scope for putting up charges in some other areas, and this was being considered.

“Some things we provide for nothing are charged for in other parts of the world,” he added.

*An underspending of £700,000 is now being predicted on the county council’s half-billion pound revenue budget at the end of the 2011-12 financial year – described as one of the most difficult in its history.

Cllr Brown told the committee he regarded this as ‘astonishingly good,’ considering the scale of changes they were taking through the budget, taking out £38m because of government cuts to grants.

There were also other less obvious cuts to the county council’s funding.

“Halfway through one of the toughest years we have ever had, we are predicting an underspending on all revenue, excluding schools, of £700,000,” said Cllr Brown.

Sixty or 70 cost-cutting projects were going on to compensate for the loss of the £38m.

“All these are pretty well on track, and cost savings from them are built into the budget,” he explained.

“If savings are not achieved, the revenue budget will not be achieved and we will not balance the books. So far this year, with six months to go, things are going extremely well.”