Council vows to protect the most vulnerable

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TACKLING poverty and inequality remains the council’s top priority despite the crippling spending cuts, councillors said this week.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will have its Government funding slashed by 47 per cent, from £12.7 million this year to £6.6 million in 2012/13.

The authority will cut 46 jobs, scale back support for events like Jack-in-the-Green and the Seafood and Wine Festival, close Hastings Museum and Art Gallery for one day a week and introduce a £1 parking charge at the Hastings Country Park.

The plans unveiled last month were approved at the HBC cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and go forward to be considered at the full council meeting a week on Monday.

The council has also unveiled its six key priorities for the year ahead as part of its corporate plan. They are:-

r Promoting economic growth and employment.

r Improving quality of life by keeping the town safe and clean.

r Making sure HBC is an efficient, customer-focused organisation and a good place to work.

r Promoting equality and narrowing the gap between the most deprived parts of town and the rest.

r Tackling climate change and making Hastings more sustainable.

r Establishing a culture of openness so local people can hold the council to account.

Cllr Jay Kramer said the priorities reflected the views expressed in The Big Conversation survey but she insisted that helping the most deprived people in the community was the top priority.

She said: “If it means we have to raise charges to deal with inequality in Hastings and St Leonards then that is what we have got to do.”

Leader of the council, Cllr Jeremy Birch, said Hastings had been saddled with a “phenomenal reduction” and was having to cover services previously funded through central Government grants.

But he said: “We still have an ambitious plan for Hastings. With less money and less staff we still plan to be proactive and get stuck in to improving this town but it will be a struggle.”

Cllr Peter Pragnell, leader of the Tory group on HBC, said the council would be under scrutiny over coming months.

He said: “Hastings has not had a good settlement - we have taken a hit and we do not like it on this side any more than you do.

“We are going to have to be very, very open with all our residents, visitors and people who do business here.”

Most of a small surplus of about £53,000 from this year’s budget will be put into the council’s reserves, but £10,000 will be spent on winter maintenance to help keep Hastings moving in the snow.