Sunday, 24 October 2010

What the cuts mean for Hastings

So now we know the worst. Government support to local councils is to be cut by 28% over the next four years. That is more than our worst case planning.

Hastings Borough Council has been working through the impacts of a possible 25% cut by 2014/15 but it is going to be bigger than that. And reductions of that scale cannot be made by efficiencies.

Of course the council must make itself as efficient as possible but a 28% reduction can only mean the council doing less than it does now. Some services may just have to stop, others seriously cut back.

Inevitably there will be less staff working for the council in five years time than there are now, although I and my colleagues will do everything to restrict compulsory redundancies to as few posts as possible.

In our Big Conversation with residents and staff which ends this week we have asked for any other ideas for reducing costs. Could volunteers do more than they already do in parts of the council, could some services be provided totally differently than they are now?

Sunderland council is inviting staff to consider if they would be interested in establishing cost-saving social enterprise businesses, such as community interest companies and co-operatives, which could take over some of the services they currently work in.

It’s possible that Hastings could be hit harder than other councils. Because of our additional needs we receive an additional £3 million per year in extra grants. The main component of that is Working Neighbourhoods Fund. The Chancellor announced in his statement last week that this Fund will be abolished at the end of the financial year.

So we could face the average 28% cut for all councils and see that additional grant just stop dead in April. If this is the case then the perverse result would be areas with greatest needs taking the greatest cut.

The reductions in the government’s main funds to councils might of course be carried out differentially so Hastings is cut less than affluent parts of Surrey, but we won’t know that till December.

Even if we wanted to we can’t make up the shortfall with extra council tax rises. Next year the council tax will be frozen with the government giving us a sum equivalent to a 2.5% rise. In future years the government will set its view on what the council tax increase should be and we could only go above that if residents approved it in a referendum.

All in all this is a very difficult time and some difficult decisions will have to be made. The Big Conversation will help us but in the end I and the other councillors have the duty to set the budget and residents will have to judge if we did our best.