Don't cut economy spending, says former leader

Worcester News: Councillor Simon Geraghty, former leader of Worcester City Council Councillor Simon Geraghty, former leader of Worcester City Council

THE former leader of Worcester City Council has warned against cuts to economic development spending - calling for it to be protected.

Councillor Simon Geraghty, who was ousted as leader last May after seven years in charge, says he fears "cutting too early" could hamper the city's progress.

Back in 2012/13 the city council spent £1.1 million on economic development across Worcester, but due to unprecedented budget pressures it stands at £672,000 this year.

The current Labour administration has pledged to protect it as much as possible and is seeking to swipe just £20,000 from that in 2014/15 from nearly £1 million of cuts overall.

But the spending on the economy, which in recent years has included ideas like High Street repaving and grants for businesses to hire apprentices, is proposed to fall by £175,000 by 2018.

Cllr Geraghty said: "This is something I think all of us agree on, that pushing economic development in the city is a long-term project that we need to keep an eye on.

"I feel proud that we have protected the budget and invested, but I've got to question whether after all this hard work, and at this time, whether we're now running a real risk by planning this budget reduction.

"This is 'enabling' funding (money that can unlock larger economic projects) and we all know there is real pressures on our services but my fear is, we are cutting this too early and what kind of an impact could that have."

But the criticism has been rejected by Labour, which says it is intent on making business development a priority.

Councillor Geoff Williams, deputy leader and the cabinet member for economic prosperity, said: "It's an exciting but very necessary agenda we've got if we're to work with that ambition of 'Worcester's a great city'.

"The key to it is partnership working, we've got to try and ensure that the monies we are spending add value and act as leverage for other people to put money in."

Anne Bonsor, the director in charge of the economic and business development department, said: "The savings of £175,000 are over a four-year period, it's £20,000 in 2014/15 and we are quite protective of it.

"There is £58 million of European (EU) funding available for Worcestershire and we need to tap into that, which is why we're consistently talking up Worcester as the place to invest in this county.

"What's bad for the city is bad for the county, this is the economic centre of Worcestershire so for us, it's about pulling in extra investment."

A £700,000 repaving of Worcester's High Street and a £341,000 overhaul of Angel Place are just two recent projects from the council's economic staff, with funding from the department pooled with other bodies.

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