Council to take £1.6m from reserves
Last Friday Hastings Borough Council issued its draft corporate plan and budget proposals for the next financial year (April 2021 to March 2022). It involves taking nearly £1.6 million from reserves rather than cutting services significantly or making more staff redundant.
According to former council leader, Cllr Peter Chowney, who remains lead councillor for financial management and estates, the receipt of significant additional funding from central government to help with the impact of Covid-19, has been matched by the expense of providing emergency food support, staffing the community hub, administering grant schemes for local businesses, and providing temporary accommodation for the most vulnerable. The council’s income has also been much reduced – for example, in lower car park income and far fewer cliff railway passengers.
“But in this very difficult year, we don’t think it’s right to cut services significantly or make more staff redundant,” says Cllr Chowney. “We also want to protect the most vulnerable in our community, which is why we’re still one of the few councils in the country to retain a 100% Council Tax Reduction Scheme for most people on out-of-work benefits.”
Cllr Chowney maintains that the council leadership “remain[s] ambitious for our town even in these most challenging of financial times. A new hotel in Cornwallis Street, the Harold Place redevelopment, new units at Churchfields Industrial Estate, and the Bexhill Road housing scheme are all worthwhile regeneration schemes. But until local government is once again properly funded by central government, and the needs of deprived towns such as Hastings are recognised, it’s going to be very difficult to provide the levels of services our community needs.”
Council leader, Kim Forward, added that the council’s vision and priorities remain: “to tackle homelessness, poverty and do all we can to ensure quality housing; keep Hastings clean and safe; make the best use of our land, buildings, public realm and cultural assets; minimise environment and climate harm in all that we do; progress our major regeneration schemes, particularly the Town Investment Plan; ensure that the council can survive and thrive into the future and now, of course, managing our response to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and help our community and businesses recover from its effects.”
Visitor Centre Overspend
Neither Cllr Forward nor Cllr Chowney made any reference to the decision taken at the council cabinet meeting on 4th January to increase both capital and future revenue budgets for completion of the construction, and thereafter operation, of the visitor centre in Hastings Country Park. The public were excluded from hearing the cabinet discussion on grounds of commercial sensitivity, and no figures for the increases have been formally released by the council. However, it has been reported elsewhere that the construction overspend is estimated at £340,000 on top of £770,000 already expended, and that the centre, which was originally intended to be self-financing, will need an annual subsidy from the council of over £40,000.
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