Gloomy recession forecast too harsh

PUBLISHED: 11:41 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 18:05 25 August 2010

The recession may have resulted in the council losing £235,000 in income, but an expected surge in demand for services did not materialise.

The recession may have resulted in the council losing £235,000 in income, but an expected surge in demand for services did not materialise.

Service managers at Bexley council expected homelessness to swell, as well as demand for free school meals, housing benefits and assistance to vulnerable groups but this never happened.

But the authority is facing a £235,000 income shortfall after losing £186,000 in rent from business units at Thames Road depot in Crayford, £35,000 in property sell offs, £14,000 from planning applications and pre-application advice and a £20,000 shortfall in parking fees and penalty charges notices, from what they projected.

Council leader Teresa O'Neill said: "We kept a watch on it all the way through and put extra support in areas that might need it. Planning applications are now starting to pick up."

Adult Education College of Bexley cost the council £114,000, mostly because of the claw-back of Learning and Skills Council funding due to under-achieving of overall performance targets, mostly down to the poor show of learner numbers and enrolment due to the recession.

The caseload for housing benefit claims in the borough was 18,649 at the end of May, which represents a year-on-year increase of seven

per cent.

But surprisingly, the number of new claims has fallen by eight per cent in the first two months of this financial year compared with the previous year.

Bexley residents claiming Jobseekers Allowance in April this year were 189 down from the previous year, from 3,835 to 4,787 - down by two per cent. It peaked in September 2009 at 5,101.

Although the number of new job seekers' claims appears to be tapering off, the number of people who are 'under employed' - that is having to work fewer hours than they want - means fewer older claims are falling out of payment.

The council provides a wide range of services on which it levies various fees, charges and rents, with total budgeted income from these at about £29 million.

Council tax collection was 95.9 per cent last year which an increase of 0.2 per cent on the annual target. Business rates collection was 98.2 per cent which was slightly up on the target of 98.1 per cent.

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