BABERGH councillors have been told of the financial challenges facing the district authority as it battles with a 44% cut in Government money over the next four years.

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The council’s financial outlook and 2013/14 draft budget came under scrutiny for the first time yesterday by Babergh’s strategy committee.

Committee chair Jennie Jenkins said despite the council making savings of nearly £5million over the past four years - and being on target to achieve at least £2million annual savings by 2015/16 from intergrating staffing structures and service delivery with Mid Suffolk District Council - the financial situation was still “difficult and challenging”.

Committee member Nick Ridley, who praised council officers for doing the best they could in such trying circumstances, said: “It is clear that without the intergration, we would be in serious trouble and facing a lot more difficulty right now.”

Committee members heard how Babergh intended to make an “early start” to settling its financial plans for 2014/15 and beyond by reviewing all of its costs - including those relating to car parking in the district.

Running car parks in Hadleigh, Sudbury and Lavenham currently costs the council £200,000 per year. While some councillors believe free short-term parking should be maintained at all costs, others feel it should at least be “cost neutral” to the council.

Councillor Sue Carpendale expressed concerns that the car parks were a financial burden on the council. She said: “This subject has been raised over and over again and it keeps coming back to bite us. I don’t believe parking charges should be introduced to raise revenue, but it’s obvious that the charges we have in place don’t do the job, so we have got something wrong.”

Fellow member Mr Ridley agreed adding: “We are the only district council in Suffolk that doesn’t have a net income from cark parking, let alone trying to balance the books. We shouldn’t forget that in the case of Lavenham for example, tourists would be reasonable target to obtain a certain amount of money through parking fees.”

A group of town councillors and chamber of commerce representatives from Sudbury are currently working to keep short-term parking free for motorists visiting Sudbury and Hadleigh. But despite having nearly a year to come up with a business plan, no firm figures have yet materialised.

Councillor Simon Barrett said the parking group needed a “wake up call” adding: “They really must get a plan together before the end of this financial year to say if they can or can’t take this on so that we can move forward.”

The council’s overview and scrutiny committee will dsicuss the draft budget next Tuesday.

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