Council leader denies misleading voters

Cllr Jeremy Birch
Cllr Jeremy Birch

THE leader of Hastings Borough Council has denied using the Government as a scapegoat for council cutbacks amid Tory accusations he has misled local voters.

Councillor Jeremy Birch has reacted angrily to suggestions he and his party are more intent on playing the blame game than working to make the best of the financial package sent down by the Coalition.

In a barbed parting shot, outgoing Conservative leader Cllr Peter Pragnell accused his rival of “deliberately misleading the public” over the cash which came to 1066 Country.

He said the figure trumpeted by Cllr Birch failed to take account for the fact an additional stream of funding was already due to come to an end.

Cllr Pragnell said: “This year Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has been allocated £7.8m, which is a fall of 14.2 per cent on last year. The fall is part of a national reduction in funds to cope with the unprecedented budget deficit. I think we all know whose deficit that is. “Perhaps if Cllr Birch wants to serve the residents of Hastings in the role he was elected to do, he and his friends should remove their socialist arm bands and start concentrating on their job - namely providing local services to residents.”

And it was an opinion shared by the town’s Tory MP, Amber Rudd.

She told the Observer: “What I dislike most about politics is the deliberate misrepresentation of policies by an opposing party. The Labour-run council excels at this, misleading residents at every opportunity about the settlement that Hastings has received.

“It should stop blaming the Government and get on with its job in hand, serving the residents of Hastings.

“I also think that it wastes valuable council time by making pointless attacks on national parties. I worry that that puts good people off from becoming councillors – of any party.”

Cllr Birch though was adamant his party was doing all it could to retain services while juggling what he described as one of the worst settlements in the country.

He said: “In the Government’s own figures we were in the top league of cuts. There is no getting away from that.

“We have set out budget so we are getting on with it. We have gone through the trauma of losing jobs and increasing charges.”

He did accept that some council debates descended into mud slinging - saying that was part and parcel of the “theatre of politics” but said his party was doing all it could to minimise the effect of the cuts. “To be honest, rather than locking horns I am more bothered about doing the best for Hastings on the ground - which I believe we are.”