Local Issues

08 Sep

FAREHAM BOROUGH COUNCIL RESERVES

There have been several claims made on Facebook in recent days that the Council has vast reserves that could and should be used in these difficult times rather than having to take unpalatable decisions such as coming into line with all other south coast councils and charging for coastal car parking. For this reason I feel it is useful to make a statement on our reserves and what can and cannot be used and for what purpose.
The Council’s reserves as at 31 March 2020 totalled £155.3m of which £45m (29%) are classed as useable reserves. The £110m of unusable reserves relate to accounting adjustments for issues such as property revaluations and as the name suggests is unusable. Unusable reserves are in attached picture and contain funds that cannot be used to provide services or used for day to day running costs. They can be categorised as:
Reserves that hold unrealised gains and losses.
Adjustment accounts that absorb the differences between applying proper accounting practices and the requirements of statutory arrangements for funding expenditure.
While £45m of usable reserves sounds very healthy, these funds relate to all aspects of the services that the Council provides, and the majority can only be used for certain purposes. For example, nearly half (over £20m) can only be used for capital purposes (such as new construction projects, purchasing large assets, etc). Another £11m, can only be used in relation to council housing.
That leaves £14m (9%) of the £155m, but two thirds of this (£9m) also has pre-existing commitments and restrictions about how it should be used. For example, £2.4m is funding received secured by legal agreements from former development sites for the maintenance of open space, £1.6m relates to business rates due to be paid to Government and other precepting Councils.
So, what remains, is £5m (3%) of the £155m that can be used to meet any income shortfall in day to day spending. £1.1m of this will be used in 2020/21 to balance the budget in this year, and there is an expectation that £2.4m will be held at all times for unforeseen fluctuations in income or spending. As previously stated, it is not wise to use reserves to meet shortfalls in revenue operations because, once spent, it cannot be used again. Very valid points have been raised about replenishing reserves once used and, to do this, we require cost reductions (from service cuts) or new income.
With reference to the Council’s £290m of assets, £124m of these are Council houses, £83m relate to other land and buildings £64m relate to commercial/investment property, then there is a range of other assets (such as vehicles, plant, heritage assets, infrastructure, etc), that make up the balance. It is true that some of these assets could be sold to generate cash, but their use would be limited to new capital investments only. The cash raised could not be used to meet a shortfall in day to day funding.
The reality of the Council’s financial position is that our prudent approach in the past has allowed the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to be met from reserves, while maintaining funding for vital public services and still being able to invest in the priorities for the Borough. However, the approach this year cannot be sustained as reserves are limited, as is the Council’s ability to raise taxes without holding an expensive referendum. Difficult decisions do need to be taken to balance the budget for this, and future, years, if services to the public are to be protected. Fareham Council’s services are delivered by levying a council tax of just £3 per week for the average home, almost the lowest in the country.
05 Sep

CHOOSE THE NAME FOR THE NEW FERNEHAM HALL

I must confess that when I was asked what the name should be of the new venue replacing Ferneham Hall my instant answer was – Ferneham Hall. I was then reminded of the history of the venue which in financial and usage terms is far from a happy one. When I became Council Leader in 1999 the venue was losing £750,000 per year and while we have been able to make significant reductions in that figure it has never failed to make a loss. The reasons for that are legion but I am strongly advised that, while we do have residents who are faithful to the brand, if those are the only people we can attract then the new venue will also not be a success. Ditto for the show promoters.
With the above in mind, and the fact that the Council is proposing an investment of some £12.5m in what is an entirely new facility, there is a strong view from those far more expert than me in these matters that to retain the name is setting us up to fail. We need to be able to attract far more users than those the hall had when it closed plus we need promoters and user groups in greater quality and numbers respectively. That will be far more likely to happen with a new venue and a new name. It is for this reason that the Council has not included Ferneham Hall as an option. I do however feel very strongly that the name Ferneham must be included somewhere in the new venue for nostalgic reasons amongst others. The names that are being consulted upon do generally resonate with Fareham’s history and I am sure that the new venue will make its own reputation which I know will be bigger and better than the old.
27 Aug

COASTAL PARKING CHARGES

Parking charges could be introduced at all coastal car parks in the Borough of Fareham to help close the projected funding gap, made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. But parking charges in Fareham town centre would continue to be frozen and new app-based systems to pay for parking could be introduced alongside cash and credit card payments if proposals are agreed.
A report to go before Fareham Borough Council’s Executive on Monday 7th September recommends the introduction of charges at all coastal car parks at Swanwick Shore, Warsash Shore, Meon Shore, Hill Head beachfront and Portchester Castle.
If approved the decision will bring Fareham into line with all other councils along the south coast from Cornwall to Kent.
One recommendation on the table is for a £3 charge for a four-hour stay between 10am and 6pm. Other options to charge by the hour will also be considered.
The proposed rates are in line with neighbouring Gosport where charges range from £3.50 to £4 for a four hour stay and considerably less expensive than Hayling Island where the charge is £5.80. It is hoped the charging will encourage a greater turnover of users at busy car parks in the peak months, allowing more residents to enjoy easy access to the Fareham coast.
The new charges could generate up to £900,000 income for the Council each year which would offset some of the losses the Council has made during the pandemic, cover the costs of upgrades and improvements to the car parks and new payment machines. It could also be used to help fund a much-needed £5.5M refurbishment of the Osborn Road multi-storey car park in the town centre which will make it more attractive and user-friendly. The proposals for this will also be considered at the September Executive meeting.
Enforcement in the car parks will be conducted by the recently formed General Enforcement Team , which is also taking a more proactive role in tackling environmental issues such as littering and fly tipping.
It is also proposed to have:
•new pay-on-foot machines for Osborn Road, Fareham Shopping Centre and Market Quay car parks;
•new solar powered pay-and-display machines for the coastal car parks;
•Meon Shore car park upgraded with improved surfacing and marked bays;
•dragons’ teeth and height barriers in Monks Hill and Salterns car parks;
•consultation on a Traffic Regulation Order outlining any required changes to parking restrictions;
•consultation on free car parks where the time waiting limit is deemed too long.
For some time Fareham Borough Council has been the only local authority on the south coast of England that has not charged people to use our coastal car parks, but now we must consider it.
The Council must explore all available revenue streams open to it and it is fairer to charge people who want to use the car parking facilities that we provide and maintain than to simply add more to everyone’s Council Tax bill. We have deliberately kept the rates low – lower than our neighbouring authorities – and been flexible with the times that charging is in force to allow for early morning and evening use to remain free of charge.
I am pleased that we are able to continue to freeze the day-time parking charges in Fareham Town Centre which have now been frozen for over a decade and I hope this will continue to encourage people back into the centre for shopping and leisure.