Council cuts spending and axes one in 10 jobs

Hastings Town Hall
Hastings Town Hall
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CRIPPLING funding cuts will force Hastings Borough Council to shed one in 10 jobs and cut back on millions of pounds worth of spending.

The Observer revealed last month how the local authority had fallen foul of the joint highest drop in funding of any council in England.

Between now and 2013/14 Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will have to reduce its spending to allow for a 48 per cent drop in government funding.

And the tough decisions started this week, with council leader Jeremy Birch unveiling what he described as “the toughest budget I have ever been involved with”.

A total of 46 jobs will be shed - with around half of those being positions currently vacant.

The rest though will be made up from redundancies - with town hall bosses already offering staff a voluntary route out.

That figure includes three senior positions in the soon-to-be merged street warden and waste teams and four posts in the housing department. Web specialists will also see their posts deleted.

There will also be a possible 13 jobs cancelled in the authority’s regeneration department - saving the council more than £350,000 a year over the next two years.

Much of the money splashed on regeneration came from the Area Based Grant given to Hastings because of its high levels of deprivation.

That money has now been replaced by a smaller, transitional grant, designed to wean the council off its dependency on additional income.

This year the authority will receive £12.7million in total funding. By 2013/14 that sum will be just £6.6million.

And, it is with this in mind that Cllr Birch has decided not to put off severe spending cuts.

“The reduction in funding for 2010/11 works out at about £70 less for every man, woman and child in Hastings and it has been difficult to manage that.

“We have tried to keep the number of compulsory redundancies down and I expect that to stay in single figures.

“This is a budget for two years but we had to look at it in context of the next four. It is better to gradually reduce things than suddenly go over a cliff in four years time when our spending it going to half what it is now.”

Those council staff who do keep their jobs are likely to see a blanket freeze on pay rises.

Other areas which will be heavily affected include the council’s financial department, which will shed three jobs - saving £82,000 a year.

And the mayor will soon have to do without both her personal assistant and her chauffeur - both of whom will lose their jobs.

Council contributions to large-scale events like Jack-in-the-Green, Hastings Seafood and Wine and Coastal Currents will be hit with a £10,000 (around ten per cent) drop, while Hastings Museum and Art Gallery will be forced to save £10,000 a year by closing for an extra day a week.

The gallery will also get £5,000 less to spend on temporary exhibitions.

Cllr Birch is adamant that he and his team has listened to the results of the recent Big Conversation survey- which urged the council to cut back on funding to the arts.

One particular area which locals wanted to see less money spent on was the White Rock Theatre, which benefits from more than £500,000 a year in subsidies.

However, its operators HQ Theatres have escaped a drop because of a ten-year contract already in place.

Visitors to Hastings Country Park will now have to stump up £1 for parking each time they visit, but the council has promised to keep public toilets free – in line with the feedback from residents.

Introducing a 20p charge would have generated an estimated £100,000 a year.

There were other reasons to be cheerful hidden among the doom and gloom. Council tax will remain frozen - saving residents an average of £40 a year.

Elsewhere, war-chests of £400,000 to aid economic development and £250,000 for the compulsory purchase of run-down homes have been protected.

A further £250,000 is also being earmarked for Hastings Pier.

Cllr Birch said he had “done the best we can with limited funding” and refuted suggestions nationally that the pinch is being felt by everyone.

“We are definitely not all in this together,” he told the Observer.

“In two years time our total annual grant from the Government will be less than the annual salary and bonus package on offer to the chief executive of Barclays.

“It was the bankers who got the country into this mess but it is the ordinary people in Hastings and elsewhere who are picking up the bill.”

See next week’s Observer for a full breakdown and reaction to the cuts.