Working up a draft budget for the next two years has been a hugely difficult process after the government reduced the council’s spending power by 6.4% - the highest in the south east. Leading councillors and senior officers have spent many hours poring through the council’s spending - every pound has been examined to check if it is really needed. We have carried out in depth reviews of or largest spending areas and sought to improve and rationalise our internal processes
But we for the council’s 2015/16 budget it has been impossible to avoid further job losses and cuts to council services. However, key services to local people have been protected as best they can be.
We are reducing the number of directors from three to two, and we will look at the remainder of our senior management structure during this year with a view to making further savings. The loss of council posts has been restricted to around 20 this year, perhaps 40 over a two-year period – which is about 10% of our workforce.
But we have managed to protect those services most dear to the hearts of local people and those that make the biggest difference to the town. However, some savings will still be difficult to swallow.
Of each £1 residents pay in council tax, just 14p comes to Hastings Borough Council, the rest goes to East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, and the East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service. The budget includes a 1.9% increase in Hastings Borough Council’s element of the council tax, which will cost the average Band D council tax payer an extra £4.48 per year, or just under 10p per week.
Car park charges will also go up for the first time in two years and be frozen for the next two years.
Over the next two years the council will use around £1m of the reserves it built up to help cushion the transition down to a smaller, lower spending authority.
In 2015/16 the Old Town Museum is earmarked for closure with its displays to be taken to the main museum off Cambridge Road. Only the Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link will receive any twinning money – there will no financial support for links with the other twin towns. There will be a significant cut in support for the annual Hastings Chess Congress and a reduction in the support the council has been able to give local community organisations.
The council is looking to make over £200,000 of savings by enabling more payment s by residents and contacts with the council to be completed electronically. It is also reducing its accommodation needs by introducing more flexible working arrangements for council staff. With computerised contact more staff can work from home at times or if out on the road not need to come back in to write reports. As a result a whole floor of the main Aquila House office block could be made vacant and available for letting out and so bringing in an income.
It is inevitable that we will become a smaller organisation delivering fewer services over the next two years because the money is not there. We will be putting renewed effort into looking for external funding opportunities, from Europe, etc. to try to sustain some of the important initiatives we have begun. However, even with fewer resources our commitment to reviving the town and improving the lives of local people remains.
The budget is now out for public consultation so let us know your views. The final decision will then be made at the full council meeting on 25th February.