Cuts: green light

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A RAFT of cost-saving cutbacks were approved this week as Hastings Borough Council comes to terms with a 50 per cent drop in funding over the next four years.

As revealed in the Observer last year, the local authority is facing up to a massive slash in the amount of cash it receives from central government.

By 2014/14, Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will get £6.6million a year compared to £12.7million for 2010/11 - a plummet of some 47 per cent.

And, at a meeting of the entire 32-seat council on Monday night, the leader of the authority Jeremy Birch laid out in detail how he planned to retain key services amid the cuts.

Speaking to councillors, employees and a packed public gallery, Cllr Birch said: “This is the toughest settlement in living history.

“The 50 per cent drop in funding over the next four years is the equivalent to every man, woman and child in Hastings being mugged to the tune of £70.”

He then went through the cuts, previously unveiled in the Observer, and congratulated each council department on working hard to come up with the best outcome of what he described as a worst case scenario.

Cllr Birch confirmed a total of 40 jobs would be lost at the council, but said the number of people forced to take compulsory redundancy had been limited to “around half a dozen”.

However, this did not wash with Lib Dem leader Richard Stevens. The Old Town councillor said: “It is not just the six people losing their jobs. it is 40 jobs in total which are going and now no longer open to local people. We should not take that lightly.”

Among the jobs to be shed are the mayor’s personal assistant and driver - at a saving of £29,000 in the first year and a further £48,000 in 2012/13 - and there will also be complete shake-up of the council’s regeneration team - creating an overall saving of almost £700,000 over two years.

Other headline grabbing cutbacks include the decision to close Hastings Museum and Art Gallery for one day a week - saving £20,000 in two years - and shut the public toilets in Silverhill, which the council says will save £17,000.

Among the losers at Monday night’s meeting were local charities and good causes, who will see an annual 6.6 per cent drop in funding, the equivalent to £28,780 in the first year alone.

A busy public gallery - which overflowed into a nearby room watching the drama unfold via video feed - grew frustrated by party politics and blame-gaming which stretched the meeting to almost four hours.

And despite tabling an alternative budget, which included a five per cent drop in councillors’ allowances (saving £14,000 a year) and a 10 per cent drop in council printing costs (inspired by the Observer’s recent story which revealed an annual £300,000 bill), the Conservatives failed to make a single change to Labour’s original plans.

This was because, with 17 councillors, Labour has a majority over both the Tories (14) and Lib Dems (one) and could therefore out-vote any opposition.

Cllr Matthew Beaver, deputy Tory leader, lamented the decision not to reduce councillor allowances - a move which he said would have meant the council could have contributed more cash to small groups locally.

He said the gesture would have show local people the town was “all in this together”.

There was some good news though. As expected, the council confirmed there would be no increase in council tax in the following year - sparing each resident an average increase of about £40 on their annual bill.