Monday, 1 October 2012

Dark clouds....

Councillor Jeremy Birch in conversation with residents
As Summer fades blue skies give way to the dark clouds hanging over the council’s finances. Our Autumn will be spent preparing for next year’s budget and talking to local people and businesses about the council services they value the most and would least like to see cut.

For next financial year starting on 1stApril 2013 the full impact of the government’s 50% reduction in grant to the council will have worked its way through. We are looking at a gaping hole of £2.5 million in our budget for 2013-14.

What have we done already? We have restructured our senior staff team saving £375,000 a year. We have retendered our two largest contracts – grounds maintenance and waste and recycling – and between them could be saving over £900,000 each year. We've continued with our internal efficiency drives and are saving money on things like electricity, printing, and concentrating our staff in one main building. We have had to cut our support to the voluntary sector by 8.8% and we will be reviewing the generous support we give to charities and other organisations with their business rates.

We are now having to look at every aspect of our  activity and asking not how much have we traditionally spent on them but rather if we were setting up Hastings Borough Council for the first time how much would we allocate to those activities.

What is clear though is the council can’t continue to do all the things it currently does but we want the input from the town before making final decisions.

So how can you get involved? Two years ago we held a Big Conversation writing to every household in the town. That itself has a significant cost so this year Another Conversation will be a little different.

You can fill in this survey to tell us which from a list of council services are the real priorities. If you belong to an organisation like a residents’ association we will be happy to come along and speak to your members and talk through the options. You can also speak to me in person at one of our 'drop-ins' in Committee Room 3 at the Town Hall on:
  • Tuesday,  23rd October, from 9-11am
  • Wednesday, 24th October, from 2-4pm
Of course, you can also leave a comment on this blog. In addition, we will be setting up some focus groups where we will select hopefully a representative mix of local residents to talk in more detail about the financial challenge and how we might tackle it.

This is certainly the most difficult financial position any of us in the council has ever had to deal with and we are being forced to make some very difficult decisions.