We must all recognise the difficult financial circumstances we are in: North Norfolk District Council’s deputy leader responds to criticism over council tax freeze
The deputy leader of North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has defended the local authority from a claim of 'gross negligence' following its decision to freeze council tax for a seventh successive year.
Councillor Judy Oliver was responding to concerns raised by Sheringham Town Council which agreed to write to the local authority to express its dismay amid fears it could put public services at risk.
She argued that it was the district council's prudence that had allowed it to subsidise local attractions such as the Little Theatre and Splash leisure centre while maintaining current tax levels.
The Sheringham South councillor, a leading member of the Conservative-led administration at NNDC, also pointed out that working in partnership with the North Norfolk Railway had helped it attract an additional £500,000 investment in the heritage line and stave off county council plans to introduce on-street parking charges in the seaside resort.
And now she is urging town councillors to work with the district council to drive forward future projects.
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Councillor Oliver said: 'We must all recognise the difficult financial circumstances in which we find ourselves as a result of austerity. Despite this, Conservatives at NNDC have again through prudent stewardship and management delivered to the people of Sheringham, and to the District as a whole, a balanced budget.
'At the same time, we have protected our position by maintaining strong reserves and we are also maintaining the same level of services. To protect residents as much as we can, we have shielded them from a council tax increase, at a time when other authorities are having to ask for more.
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'We thought this was the right thing to do for the people of North Norfolk. NNDC is not cutting services or asking the town council to pick up additional services as a result of the council tax freeze.
'Strong financial management has also meant that district council funding for our key attractions in Sheringham such as the Little Theatre and Splash has been maintained and we have been able to invest large sums in works on the prom.
'In order to maintain our strong position in future years after government grant ends, we also want to maximise the value of our assets and deliver further services and facilities for our residents and visitors.'
She added: 'In Sheringham, we are now working hard to replace Splash with a new multi-million pound facility and have secured almost £500,000 investment in North Norfolk Railway to provide new public toilets and tourist information centre.'
With funding from national government being slashed, North Norfolk District Council previously revealed it needs to find a further £1.3 million over the next three years on top of the £3 million savings already identified.
But Sheringham Town Council heard that had the authority increased its share of the council tax charge by one per cent every year over the last seven years it could have raised an extra £1 million to invest in the area.
Councillor Oliver said: 'Over the last two years it has been a pleasure to work with Sheringham Town Council under (mayor) Councillor David Gooch on a number of issues to protect and improve our town. Together we have fought off a damaging attempt to introduce on-street parking meters and the district council continues to deal with ongoing problems with the Shannocks Hotel.
'We always welcome the views of Sheringham Town Council and healthy debate around the issues that affect our local residents.
'So that we can better represent Sheringham together, we would like to suggest we set up a small working group which will allow us to tackle issues as they arise and in which important matters such as budgets and services can be discussed in detail.'