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In a pioneering step, Harrow LBC is to consult with the public on its future spending plans and priorities as part ...
In a pioneering step, Harrow LBC is to consult with the public on its future spending plans and priorities as part of its budgetary review.

In effect this will mean that for the first time in Harrow, council tax payers will have a say on how much council tax they will pay.

The 1999/2000 process began at a meeting of the policy & resources committee last week, which received an update on the council's current financial position from chief executive and director of finance, Tony Redmond.

Councillors heard that projected spending plans based on current levels of service and unavoidable commitments would mean the council would need to spend£185.3m in the year beginning April 1 1999, set against an estimated government-imposed spending limit of£176.1m, leaving a shortfall of£9.2m.

It is important to note that these figures are preliminary, and necessarily estimate a number of factors which could have significant effects on the budgetary process when finalised, such as new initiatives included in the government's spending proposals* and future inflation.

To tackle this predicted shortfall, the council has proposed to freeze service budgets at current levels, except in special circumstances or if there were serious implications for a service. Such circumstances could lead to individual service budgets rising by up to 2.5 per cent; any higher would necessitate savings in other areas.

The meeting agreed to a full review of services to identify necessary expenditure levels for the coming financial year, and to report these back to a special meeting of the committee on December 8. Stakeholder forums*, interest groups and the general public will be consulted further when this information is available together with the provisional grant entitlement and capping figures announced by government. The final draft budget and recommended council tax levels will be part of the final stage of consultation in February next year.

'Harrow Council is totally committed to public consultation as part of the best value process, and there is nothing more important than spending plans and priorities, so it only right that the people who use our services should have a role in deciding what these should be,' said leader of the council, Bob Shannon.

NOTES * Stakeholder forums were established after the borough conference in July to scrutinise the four themes of the best value process in the borough, which aims to establish how the council can provide the most effective services at the most efficient cost. The four stakeholder forums are: Strengthening Communities, Lifelong Learning, Environment and the Economy, and Health and Social Care.

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