Services maintained

FRONT line services in East Devon won t be slashed – despite forecasts predicting plummeting council revenues, and a 40 per cent drop in planning fees.

FRONT line services in East Devon won't be slashed - despite forecasts predicting plummeting council revenues, and a 40 per cent drop in planning fees.

East Devon District Council's portfolio holder for the economy, Andrew Moulding, insisted services wouldn't be cut, and any shortfall would be plugged by up to �2 million of reserves.

Last month, tax payers welcomed East Devon District Council's inflation-busting budget, a zero increase in council tax.

But the decision by the Tory-controlled council to not increase tax and instead use reserves, currently at about �11.2m, to plug any shortfall, has raised some eyebrows, especially because of predictions of falling revenues in other areas.

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Outside of the Government's annual settlement, main sources of income include land charges, building control fees, off-street car parking and planning applications - and all are falling.

Income from planning applications from April 2007 to April 2008 was about �807,700 - but this year that income is expected be 40 per cent lower, a drop of �350,000.

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Building control fees up to 2008 were �643,900, but this year a 16 per cent drop is predicted, equating to �100,000.

While Land Charges income, where estate agents, solicitors and home buyers ask for information on a property prior to a sale or purchase, predict income will drop by �175,000 from �437,900.

Off-street car parking was also hit and income has fallen by �100,000 from �2,317,600.

And to cap it off, the council's investments portfolio has taken a hit - because of low interest rates of just 0.5 per cent. Council returns are likely to be up to �400,000 lower than the previous year.

Mr Moulding said: "Off-street car parking has been affected and we lost revenue after the dreadful summer we had - not so many people are using their cars."

He said that council revenues were often reliant on a buoyant housing sector and a downturn affected building control, land charges and planning.

He said: "We are not anticipating any major reductions or cuts to services over the coming year."

He said they were bound by Government efficiency targets and added: "We are always looking at how we can streamline arrangements, from a delivery point of view and a back office point of view, and these will continue to be scrutinised over the coming year."

But Councillor Geoff Chamberlain, leader of the council's Liberal Democrat group said: "A �4.6 million car park (to be funded between 2010 and 2011) is pie in the sky and a �250,000 feasibility study (that could be paid for this year) is waste of money. That project should be put on hold.

"I think a modest increase in council tax would have been the right thing to do - I don't think people would be crying in their beer if there was a one to one-and-a-half per cent increase so things could be run properly.

"(Council leader) Sara Randall Johnson has announced a group to monitor expenditure and it is clear to me they will be struggling to maintain the status quo.

"The council should have been honest in the first place. The council are now going to have to plug that hole with �2 million reserves.

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