Tough times are ahead as cuts hit hard in Hastings hard

Service users at the under-pressure Parchment Trust
Service users at the under-pressure Parchment Trust

THE boom time of government grants and millions of pounds of funding flooding into 1066 Country is over.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) announced last week it would be shedding 46 jobs after discovering its government funding is set to plummet by 48 per cent over the next four years.

And this week East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has revealed plans to address a £100million drop over the next four years.

Locals, it seems, are going to have to get used to less services. The money coming in to HBC works out at £70 less for every man, woman and child. Clearly then, something has to give.

Already earmarked for the chop is 10 per cent of the cash handed out to support large-scale local festivals like Jack-in-the-Green, jobs in housing, waste and street wardens and - perhaps indicative of direction Hastings will be shoehorned into in the near future - an entire department in charge of the town’s regeneration.

The leader of HBC called it “the most difficult budget” he had ever been involved in, and this week, the deputy leader of ESCC, Cllr Tony Reid, said his authority faced making “tough choices” and admitted “some decisions will be painful”.

He said: “All departments will have to make some cuts and funding for some work will have to stop completely.”

Funding for adult social care appears the most under threat, with the authority proposing a £14.2million drop in funding.

And this is not just bad news for the near 200 workers who will be axed this year, but also for the charities which will be left taking the strain as people look elsewhere for services previously offered by local authorities.

Once such is the Parchment Trust, which offers day support to more than 150 disabled youngsters each week across two centres.

Andrew Phillips, the charity’s general manager, says interest in both the horticultural project at Friary Gardens and a day care centre in Nelson Road has skyrocketed since the recession hit.

“We have certainly noticed an increase in demand over the last six months as services become less and less available elsewhere,” he told the Observer.

But, despite extra demands put on the charity, its funding levels have been cut back. “We

have services commissioned from Hastings Borough Council, East Sussex County Council, the NHS and also some London boroughs who have people in residential care down here.

“Essentially they pay us to provide support so they do not have to. But we have noticed a dip in funding. It has not increased in line with inflation so in real terms we have less to spend on our service users.”

Some of the London boroughs are now planning to cut payments by 10 per cent and ESCC is preparing to cut all funding to anyone not deemed to be in a critical situation - meaning yet more struggles for the Parchment Trust and similar charities.

This, Mr Phillips says, would have a huge affect on local vulnerable people - and not just those helped by the Parchment Trust. “This is a significant threat. A lot of the people we support live at home. Our day centre provisions allow parents and carers the opportunity to go out and work. Many have said to us that if the funding for their children was stopped, they would have to decide whether to give up their jobs or send their child into residential care. In the long-term, introducing such a blanket cut in funding could prove very costly, not to mention the moral obligation.”

Other groups have not been so lucky. Decoda, which ran a well-attended music gym for profoundly disabled youngsters, was forced to close after its funding was stopped. And there is a real fear locally that others will follow.

Hastings’ MP Amber Rudd had urged decision-makers to prop up such groups, but her suggestion the cash could be found by merging services between local authorities has been dismissed.

Quite simply, there does not seem to be the money to sustain Hastings’ rapid regeneration.

Large-scale projects like the Hastings Bexhill Link Road have been put on the back-burner as the Coalition Government calls a temporary halt on many multi-million pound projects.

Rail campaigners have already hit out at increased prices imposed on commuters travelling from Hastings to the capital, and local businesses are now fearful a lack of investment could hit firms hard.

Brett McLean, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) here in Hastings, said that any substantial cuts would eventually find their way back to hurting the economy.

He said: “When jobs are lost it hits businesses because there are less people spending money in town.

“Businesses are being hit from all directions, with the added cost of fuel and the VAT rise forcing many to increase prices. In a town like Hastings which has a low average wage to start with, the danger is it can put people off spending, which of course poses a huge threat to firms, particular small, independent traders.”

And, with the link road looking unlikely to be built in the near future at least, the FSB chairman said Hastings risked becoming an increasingly isolated economy.

“We have already seen a number of businesses go under in the last year,” said Mr McLean, “and the near future looks very dicey indeed. The problem is any cuts start a domino effect and will invariably lead to more firms closing, and more job losses.”

And, as the recession forces many people either out of their homes, long-standing safety nets are also being slashed. HBC says it will spend £30,000 less on bed and breakfast for homeless people. Other charities dealing with people down on their luck are also facing up to funding cuts.

There have been warnings too that a drop in police funding could prove to be a field day for criminals - some of whom will have been forced into crime by the recession.

As many as 500 police officers will be axed by Sussex Police over the next five years - along with 550 support staff. The upshot being many local people are concerned levels of crime, which has shown signs of being brought under control over the last decade, will increase as less officers take to the streets.

Councillor Godfrey Daniel, who sits on the Sussex Police Authority (SPA), earlier this month claimed that “the only people who will celebrate this will be the criminals in our midst” and called the job losses a “sad day for policing in our county”.

But crime fighting is not the only area of our emergency services to be targeted. A cost-saving merger between Hastings and Rother PCT and East Sussex Hospitals Trust will result in more than 150 jobs losses, and although health bosses have promised to keep cuts to frontline services at a minimum, there will be areas which have to reign in their operations.

Hastings, it seems, is in for a few tough years as decision makers try and balance the books.

However, it is not all bad news. It was announced this week that ESCC plans to pour extra money into the threatened St Leonards Academy to allow the new school to open - a sign, says Ms Rudd, that money will continue to come into Hastings - even if not in the same degrees as before.

That said, cuts to education funding and the Government’s decision to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in fees drew hundreds of worried local students out onto the streets in protest.

And the likely abolishment of the Education Maintenance Allowance payments risks putting many local students off further study.

Hastings is also set to miss out on a new library, with the town having to make do with improvements to existing facilities.

Nevertheless, the town’s MP remains upbeat. She said: “Of course things will be difficult. Quite simply, there is less money to go round.

“But I am confident we will see an increase in the number of jobs locally.

“The investment in this town has primed it for growth and, with firms like Saga moving in, the private sector should be able to off-set any losses to state jobs.

“I will continue to fight for more money for our town, but I am still positive we can get through this.”