Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Still ambitious and optimistic

Enjoying Chinese New Year in the Priory Meadow

Well the budget has been set and those months of agonising are over for now. But we are still staring at a 50% reduction in our grant from government by 2013 – that equates to £70 less grant for every man, woman and child in the borough.

For the coming year the museum will close one day a week, the charge for collecting garden waste will rise from £37.50 to £40 a year, car parking charges will go up and in the Country Park they will be introduced for the first time - £1 a day but with the opportunity for Hastings residents to buy a £25 annual season ticket. There will be a 6.3% cut in the money the council gives out to voluntary groups.

Thankfully we have been able to limit the number of compulsory job losses in the council to about four. And I really want to thank all our staff who have had to put up with a lot of uncertainty and worry over the last few months. I am really pleased that the staff trade union representatives felt they wanted to thank us publicly for trying to minimise the impact of the cut in government funding.

But it’s not just been within the council that difficult decisions are having to be made. The government’s ending of area based grants (the extra money given to Hastings to tackle its extra needs) has ended some really valuable activities.

The advice agencies helping people with financial or benefit problems were given additional money to tackle additional demand – that has now ended. So will the Best project that enabled Sussex Coast College, Hastings to pay community organisations to organise basic training for those who lacked the rudimentary skills employers look for. There are other projects that promoted work experience and support for those trying to start a business for the first time. They too will just end.

Despite all this we remain an ambitious council and I remain optimistic for Hastings. The budget still allocates £750,000 for home adaptations for people with disabilities. It still includes £250,000 to start compulsory purchases of empty homes. And we have still found £250,000 to help the Pier trust find the match funding they need for their lottery bid. In fact just before the budget meeting the council met to agree to commence the compulsory purchase of Hastings Pier.

Elsewhere the Stade open space and new community centre are nearly ready. The Jerwood gallery continues to come out of the ground and will make us a nationally important cultural destination. The second phase of University Centre Hastings will be ready for the student intake in September.

And thanks to public money nationally and locally Saga have located their insurance business in Hastings. They have started work and intend to create 800 jobs in our town.

Along with all the other positives in our town – the promenade, the sea, the countryside, the architecture, the people – we have got a lot going for us, despite the damaging spending cuts we are seeing around us.