Get ready for the cuts in council services

HASTINGS is bracing itself for severe cuts to council services set to be announced next week.

The Observer revealed at the tail end of last year how Hastings Borough Council would suffer the joint largest cut in government funding of any local authority in the UK.

Council leader Jeremy Birch warned there would be tough times ahead as he was tasked with trying to make up a £2.3million funding deficit.

And the Labour leader is currently holed-up in the town hall with staff working on the council’s budget for 2011.

Cllr Birch has promised to do all he can to protect frontline services - particularly in the areas identified as being most valued by residents in the recent Big Conversation survey.

More than 2,000 people responded to the questionnaire, with areas like cleanliness, community safety and parks and playing fields among the services locals most wanted saved from the chop.

Decorative lighting and cash spent promoting the arts were two of the areas where people felt the axe should fall - and council staff employed in those areas now face an anxious wait to see whether their jobs will be affected.

Cllr Birch this week described the financial problems as “a black cloud hanging over the next 12 months”.

He told the Observer: “This (the cuts) will very seriously impact on the services we provide and the jobs we can offer.

“I am not looking forward to presenting this year’s budget but I will do everything I can to limit compulsory redundancies and cuts to the key services local people have said they value the most.”

Council staff will be briefed on the cuts on Thursday, with the fall-out revealed exclusively in the Observer the following day.

Hastings MP Amber Rudd, who previously challenged the council to use the settlement as an opportunity to make efficiency savings and merge services with neighbouring authorities, said she hoped key services would be protected.

She said: “We are living in a different world now with less money to go round, but I trust the council to make the right decisions and safeguard the most important frontline roles.

“Funding to organisations which help support the vulnerable should be protected as a priority because at times like this they are in more demand than ever.”