Tories defend Worthing investment projects

The gap in Worthing Borough Council’s 2021/22 budget has shrunk from the £1.9m predicted in July to £1.33m.

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While the next few years will see that gap widen to more than £5m by 2025/26, a report to a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (December 15) said the authority was still ‘well positioned’ to set a balanced budget next year.

The gap will be plugged largely thanks to a list of 45 small cuts, savings and improved income which add up to £1.29m.

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They include having to pay less for commercial waste tipping fees as businesses are recycling more, an increase in green bin sales, staff losses in the planning, benefits and environmental services departments and plans to raise more money from car parks once the pandemic is over.

As with all councils across the country, the financial cost of the pandemic has hit Worthing hard.

This prompted concerns from Labour leader Becky Cooper who questioned the wisdom of continuing to pump money into the various Platforms For Our Places improvement schemes.

While praising as ‘incredibly commendable’ the efforts of officers to put the council in a tenable financial position, she added: “We feel as the opposition that we would like to see more joined-up thinking between the financial constraints and the Platform For Our Places vision.

“We are concerned that the strategic vision and the financial constraints are not joined up enough.”

Platforms investments already lined up for 2021/22 include £64,000 for the Gigabit Project to install public Wi-Fi in the town centre, a total of £64,000 for refurbishment work at the Buckingham Road and High Street car parks, and the £1.99m already approved for the Brooklands Park masterplan.

Brooklands seemed to be the main sticking point for Labour, with Mrs Cooper suggesting the decision to spend so much money on one park ‘should be reviewed’.

She and the other seven Labour councillors at the meeting abstained from voting on the budget and the Capital Programme – a move leader Daniel Humphreys called ‘a cop-out’.

Mr Humphreys said that doing less would ‘cost this council and the people of Worthing money’, adding: “We need that ambition, we need to keep delivering and it is that ambition that is helping to deliver the budget savings that we need.”

The Capital Programme for 2021/22 – 2023/24 includes a number of new schemes, such as £85,000 for new windows at the Connaught Theatre, £100,000 for improvements to public toilets, £89,600 to replace timber decking on Worthing Pier, and £30,000 to establish a Marine Conservation Zone off Worthing Beach.

Mr Humphreys explained that cutting money from the Brooklands Park scheme was not an option.

He said: “Brooklands is something we are not going to be able to do on the cheap. We don’t want to do that. We have high aspirations for it.”

Edward Crouch (Con, Marine) was less diplomatic.

He accused Labour of being ‘out of touch’ and ‘talking the town down, talking down to the rest of the committee,  talking down to residents’ aspirations’.

He then described their plans to produce an alternative budget as ‘humorous’, saying it would ‘win an award for fiction’, adding that the community was ‘very keen that the council continues to push forward rather than looking for excuses to cancel everything’.