Hastings Borough Council launches consultation on ‘toughest budget ever’

Cllr Peter Chowney, Hastings Borough Council leader
Cllr Peter Chowney, Hastings Borough Council leader

Hastings Borough Council is consulting on its draft corporate plan and budget for 2019/20–2021/22 and want to know what you think.

The corporate plan sets out the council’s vision for the year ahead, outlines what the service priorities will be, and the key opportunities the council will pursue.

The budget sets out how the council propose to pay for what they intend to do.

This draft corporate plan and budget for the period 2019/2020 to 2021/22 is available at https://www.hastings.gov.uk/my_council/consultations/corp-budget-19/.

This is your opportunity to have your say, help shape the future of Hastings, and ensure our plans are fit for purpose and relevant to you. Submit any comments you have to consultation@hastings.gov.uk.

Hard copies of these documents can be accessed at the Council’s Contact Centre and the Tourist Information Centre. At both of these centres there are the IT facilities and support necessary for the submission of comments.

The deadline for feedback is 5pm on Friday, February 8, 2019.

All comments received will be summarised and reported to the council’s next Cabinet meeting. After which the draft plan and budget will be put before full council for approval.

Members of the public are welcome to attend these meetings to hear the associated debate.

Leader of Hastings Borough Council, Councillor Peter Chowney, said: “Over the last eight years, we have been faced with continuing year-on-year cuts to our government grants. Revenue Support Grant, the main grant we got from central government, has been cut over that period from around £10m, to nothing at all. This means that since 2010, the council has lost well over £40m, cumulatively, from a net annual budget of just £15m.

“So we’ve had to replace that funding wherever we can by raising money locally. We’ve done this by increasing fees and charges, raising Council Tax, and income generation, notably commercial property purchases, which have generated over £700,000 a year in additional net annual income.

“Although we have no control over the level of business rates, we are participating in an East Sussex pilot scheme this year whereby 75 per cent of the business rates collected in Hastings are retained locally, rather than the current 50 per cent. However, describing this as “75 per cent local business rate retention” is misleading. Hastings Council will retain 44 per cent of the business rates, with 27 per cent going to the county council and four per cent to the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

“That means Hastings Council gets to keep £9.5m in business rates – except that it doesn’t, because we’re subject to a business rate ‘tariff’ which means we have to give £5.5m of this to the government so they can redistribute it to other councils. The overall result of this is that Hastings will gain just £50,000, while losing many times that in government grants.

“The Hastings Council element of the Hastings Council Tax will increase this year by 2.99 per cent, which amounts to £7.69 per annum for a Band D property, or 15p a week. This is the maximum allowed. We are however, very proud that we’ve been able to keep a generous Council Tax reduction scheme, which means that most people on out-of-work benefits (75 per cent of claimants) will still pay no Council Tax. We believe we will be the only council left in the country who does this, for the coming financial year. Because of the extreme financial hardship that’s been caused by the early roll-out of Universal Credit in Hastings, we believe we need to do this to protect those who are least able to pay.

“This year however, we’ve seen a ‘perfect storm’ of cuts to our grant funding and massive additional pressures on our budget. The new refuse collection contract and street cleaning services will cost a million-and-a-half more than the old contract, Added to that, rocketing homelessness has pushed the bill for rehousing homeless people to over a million pounds a year. This means that we were facing a gap in our budget for the coming year of over £3 million – 20 per cent of the total net budget.

“We’ve had to cover that gap by a mixture of service cuts, efficiency savings, and income generation. There will be around 14 council staff redundancies, in full time equivalents.

“However, all that will only cover about half the gap, and we’ll have to take around £1.8m from our reserves. So over the coming year, we’ll have to find further savings, or generate additional income, to cover that gap next year.

“But it’s not all bad news. We will continue to bid for external grants to fund projects that help us meet our priorities. We’ve been very successful at this, raising millions over the last couple of years for additional targeted support for rough sleepers, a series of employment and community development projects in the most deprived parts of town, improvements to the seafront, funding to help our local fishery, and more.

“We’re also bringing our street cleaning service back in house, running it directly rather than through an external contractor. This will give us more control over the service, making it more responsive and helping us to improve standards of cleanliness across the town. We’ll also continue to look at new ways to tackle the challenges we’re facing, including homelessness, deprivation, and climate change, as well as continuing existing initiatives such as our support for cultural regeneration, and physical regeneration through the ‘Grotbusters’ scheme and private rented housing licensing, all of which have helped the regeneration of our borough and its local economy.

“We will continue to generate new income where possible, for example through our own housing company that will both buy existing housing and start developing council-owned sites, energy generation, and other projects. We’ll also be investigating marketing our award-winning ‘My Hastings’ online reporting and payments framework to other councils.

“This year will be our toughest budget ever. But we will do all we can to be more efficient, improve our performance and customer care, and get the very best for local people.”

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