In an article printed in Hastings in Focus, Hastings and Rye Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Nick Perry, cited indices where areas of Hastings are highlighted as suffering from deprivation. He stated, “The newly-released 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation shows Hastings Borough becoming more deprived in seven out of the 11 identified domains, which has got to be a major cause for concern for all of us who care about it.”

The 2019 Index of Multiple Deprivation provides very little detail about local authority areas but does indicate that Hastings is now the 13th most deprived local authority in the country, dropping from 20th since 2015, according to data issued by the government’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Baird ward was the neighbourhood indicated as suffering the worst deprivation and was the one Perry highlighted to criticise his rival, Peter Chowney, the Labour parliamentary candidate and Hastings Borough Council (HBC) leader. 

In response, Peter Chowney pointed out that, up to 2010, the Labour government had made significant investments in Hastings, spending over £300m on infrastructure projects, apprenticeships and other training schemes for young people in the most deprived areas. Some of that regeneration money went towards building new office accommodation in the town centre, industrial units on the Enviro 21 site on South Queensway and the Saga building in Priory Square.

Chowney said, “A failure to understand what infrastructure spending could achieve was part of the problem when the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with the Tories in government, and brought in nine years of austerity that ended such investment. No more ‘flashy building projects’, an end to new healthcare facilities, an end to better schools and colleges.

“But on top of that infrastructure spending, there was also a lot of money invested through Area Based Grants and other funding streams in social and economic projects, building up community structures in the poorest neighbourhoods and running projects, through the council, to set up apprenticeships and other training schemes for young people in the most deprived areas, to begin to tackle the skills shortages and poor educational performance. That had resulted in deprivation levels beginning to reduce.  

“After 2010, the Liberal Democrat and Tory austerity programme scrapped all that too. And on top of that, the Hastings Council’s core budget was slashed, with £55m cumulatively cut from our £15m annual budget since 2010. Inevitably, this led to big reductions in services, so much of the community development and training initiative work the council had been doing had to cease. East Sussex County Council suffered similar cuts, leading to further community projects in Hastings being scrapped. These cuts hit social services and other support programmes for vulnerable people hard, too, leading to big increases in homelessness, rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour, all of which pushed up costs for the Borough Council as levels of homelessness tripled and the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets increased thirteen-fold.”

In his article, Perry argued, “However tough the national funding settlement is, all councils have choices on what they organise, how they prioritise and who gets what slice of the meagre pie they have been given.” 

Perry suggested, “For example, the Council could have decided to use its considerable land and property portfolio to set up a network of one-stop hubs powered by solar energy in our local neighbourhoods. These buildings could be used to provide a range of easy-to-access community and outreach services that encourage and engage residents (rather than cost extra bus or taxi fares).”

He continued, stating, “The Labour Council is the establishment, having been in office with big majorities since 2010. And it looks like it has been as seduced by a ‘flashy building projects’ approach to regeneration as was the Tory administration immediately before it.  

“The Labour leader of the Council sits on the Board of Sea Space, Sea Change (Sea Sick, or whatever it is called now), the totally opaque, unaccountable quango that has managed to spend millions and millions of pounds on unused commercial square footage in the town centre and the failed Enviro 21 industrial park off Queensway.”

Perry also criticised the council for squandering regeneration money, letting Brighton University close their Hastings campus, passing up opportunities to work with Hastings United Football Club, not completing the Hastings Greenway, allowing the Ore Valley Community Land Trust to be evicted and carpeting the long-vacated Priory Square building.

Again, Chowney responded, “Some of the schemes Nick mentions in his article, such as the Hastings Greenway Project, are worthwhile, but they need proper funding to be realised. He seems to think, though, that none of these projects need government investment, it’s just up to the council to ‘enable’ them: ‘hand-ups not hand-outs’, as he says. All that’s needed is for the country’s most deprived communities to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they don’t need any financial investment – it was the policy of the austerity government he supported for all those years. It didn’t work, and it never will.”

The council leader continued, “We know what the reasons for deprivation in Hastings are. Poor transport infrastructure means employers won’t relocate here, exacerbated by low skill levels in the local workforce and poor educational achievement, coupled with a lack of support for mental health, addiction and other social problems. None of these are things the council can fix without additional funding, and certainly not with the huge funding cuts we’ve had to cope with, at the same time that pressures on council spending have significantly increased.”

Local authority funding is a glasshouse for Perry to be lobbing rocks from but may be an ongoing attack line for the fifth-time-running parliamentary candidate. In his role as Council Leader, Peter Chowney is arguably one of the people who has invested the most into preventing the excesses of poverty and deprivation affecting the residents of Hastings, but he supports the lead Lib Dem policy – remaining in the EU – and Labour have adopted a second-referendum policy. So, without the virtue of an exclusively ‘remain’ candidate, look forward to a bloody fight between these two in the upcoming election. 

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