‘If you own a car you’re rich’ says Fenland Council leader as he outlines possible car park charges and defence of the vulnerable in programme of options to balance the books

So where will axe fall within Fenland Hall?

So where will axe fall within Fenland Hall? - Credit: Archant

If you're a car driver in Fenland then you're 'rich' is the belief of Fenland District Council leader John Clark.

Cllr John Clark Leader of Fenland District Council

Cllr John Clark Leader of Fenland District Council - Credit: Archant

Cllr Clark made the jaw-dropping comment at a press conference called to publicly unveil the latest report in the council's on-going consultation on potential service cuts.

The remark came as he admitted the public's support for car parking charges in a recent public survey had not 'surprised' him, because that was the feedback he had when out canvassing earlier in the year.

And he added: 'People who own cars are rich.'

He qualified it by stating car owners are 'rich' compared to 'little old ladies' who don't own a car and rely on services like the Fenland Association for Community Transport (FACT) to get around.

Paul Medd Fenland's chief executive

Paul Medd Fenland's chief executive - Credit: Archant

Cllr Clark also acknowledged that while car parking charges are apparently not contentious with the public they are still a sticking point for many of his fellow Conservative councillors.

He said: 'There are red lines that some members are not prepared to cross. It is going to be difficult to reach agreement on some of those issues.

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'Everyone now has a chance to have their say on where these savings should be made, and they can make their choices informed by the public survey results.'

All 39 councillors are to be briefed on a 160 page report which contains results of the survey sent to all 44,000 Fenland households asking where people think the council should make savings.

In total 6,361 surveys were completed - a response rate of 14 per cent. The information contained in those surveys has been broken down for the report, so councillors can make informed choices when filling in their own surveys.

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday afternoon Cllr Clark said he was not surprised by many of the results.

The council is looking to make a further £1.8 million of savings over the next three to four years - but that figure could rise depending on what Chancellor George Osborne announces in his autumn statement next month.

Cllr Clark and the council's chief executive Paul Medd admitted the amount Fenland needs to save is 'pocket change' compared to other authorities such as Cambridgeshire County Council.

It was also agreed that simply imposing car parking charges on the council's car parks would generate enough income to nearly cover the cost of the cuts being looked at.

Cllr Clark promised his own Conservative group members would be left to make up their own minds when it comes to filling in the councillor survey.

'I don't intend to hold a group meeting to discuss this or give direction. It is entirely their choice, I don't want to influence them in anyway,' said Cllr Clark, who admitted getting eventual agreement could prove tricky, and if his own members could not agree, could even spark a leadership challenge.

The councillors have a fortnight to complete the survey, which was included with the report and Cllr Clark has promised to make public the number of members who complete the document.

Findings from the members' survey will be evaluated and will be the basis of a more refined round of public consultation when the 'nitty gritty' of figures involved will be included at the end of the year.

The final decision will be made by the full council when it meets towards the end of February.

But while some of the findings from the survey may help inform Fenland's budget for 2016/17 the full effects will not be felt until 2017/18 when the axe will start to fall on those services chosen by the public and councillors to face the chop.

Cllr Clark said: 'The first thing this council decided when we were elected in May was to hold a comprehensive spending review (CSR).

'The survey and consultation is part of the CSR, but it has not been done in isolation. Work has been ongoing to draw up a balanced budget for next year, and we are confident, with a bit of tweaking, we are in a position to deliver that.

'The savings being talked about in this consultation will not really be felt until the following year,' he said.