CONCERNS have been raised about Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council's proposals to employ an extra 31 staff members and raise its overall spending costs.

The new cabinet has published its first budget proposal plan to go out for public consultation and it was discussed during a scrutiny meeting held on Tuesday, November 21.

The proposals, which are called the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), include hiring over 31 new council staff including an extra 16 for street cleansing and grounds maintenance.

During the meeting members were told council tax would increase by £5 a year (4.99 per cent per annum) which would be 10p a week for the average resident.

The council’s total costs would increase by nearly 7.5 per cent if this plan is approved.

Basingstoke Gazette: Cllr John Izett (left) and Cllr Samuel Carr (right

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During the meeting, Cllr John Izett said the plans have left him "puzzled".

He said: "There can't be any other council in the land that is about to increase its staff numbers by something in the order of five per cent, adding three-quarters of a million pounds to the operational costs of the council. It is brave."

He questioned why the council needed more staff when "67 per of residents" already think the team is good.

The co-leader of the council, Cllr Gavin James said he believes "it is the right thing to do" because "he can't ask the current staff to anymore to reach the standard" the council is looking for.

Cllr Izett continued: "This is going to have a big impact on the overall finances of the council. This sort of level of expenditure, which is to a degree being paid by depleting our reserves, puts us in a projective position by 2027 of having a deficit, a budget gap of £5.76m which causes me great concern."

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The leader of the Labour group Cllr Jackie Tustain shared a similar view and said she is "concerned about the huge increase in the number of staff".

Meanwhile, Cllr Samuel Carr said he was concerned the council's finances are "in the wrong hands". He said he was worried about the risk of opening up a deficit "when there will be greater challenges" to face.

He said it must be made clear to residents what will be done to close the deficit gap.

Cllr Paul Basham said the proposals are full of "excellent investments" in the borough and its residents.

Cllr Izett, speaking on behalf of Conservative councillors after the meeting said: “ I’m sure many residents will question the new council leadership’s priorities. At a time when 71 per cent of people surveyed nationally recently say that making ends meet is at the top of the list, this council plans to increase council tax to help fund employing more staff to deliver services that 67 per cent of our residents say are already satisfactory.

"We froze council tax last year and we launched the £1m Basingstoke Cost of Living Assistance Fund (COLAF) for hard-pressed residents last year followed by another £1m. Why isn’t the new cabinet focusing on directly helping these residents and their families? I am concerned that this council’s finances are now no longer in safe hands."

Members at the meeting voted to “recommend that the administration revisit the proposals for a significant increase in staffing and the potential long-term impacts this could have”.

Final proposals for the detailed budget will be considered by the cabinet on Tuesday, February 6 next year with a decision being made at a full council meeting on Thursday, February 22.