Observer column: 8 January 2021
It is very sad that 2021 has started in much the same way that 2020 finished with very high virus infection rates in our town but I wish you all a brighter new year as the vaccination programme starts in Hastings.
We are now in a second national lockdown, until at least the middle of February, with a clear message to stay at home and only go out where there is an essential, valid reason to do so. Now more than ever if we do leave our homes, we must keep our distance from others, wear a face covering and wash our hands regularly. This is how we can keep ourselves and our family and friends as safe as possible and how we protect those who can't work from home. We all rely on our key workers for vital services and need to help them to stay well. The Sussex Resilience Forum (of which the council is a member) has now declared a major incident in relation to the growing concerns around capacity to manage our collective response to the pandemic as the situation evolves.
Schools and colleges are closed to all but our vulnerable children and those of key workers and parents and carers are once again doing their best to educate their children at home with the support of teachers and school staff though online learning. Well done for doing the best that you can in these difficult times. Please contact your child's school if you are having difficulty with online learning because you don't have the equipment or access to the internet that you need.
The new year means budget and corporate plan consultation time, and although this work has been also been impacted by the pandemic, our proposals will be published on our website on Monday on our website www.hastings.gov.uk where you can comment on our proposals.
Last year the council agreed its corporate plan until 2024 and then COVID-19 arrived with unprecedented impacts for us all so we have updated the key activities in our corporate plan for 2021/2. These reflect our significant new commitments as a result of COVID-19 and continued intentions to provide those key services local people need. You can find this draft update on our website and we welcome you views and comments. Our vision and priorities in the corporate plan remain the same for 2021/22 despite an ever more challenging and uncertain financial position.
Although the council has received significant additional funding from central government because of COVID-19, we have paid out very large sums too for example in emergency food support, staffing the community hub and providing temporary accommodation for the most vulnerable. Our income has been very much reduced as well for example in lower car park income and far fewer cliff railway passengers.
The council was already facing its most challenging financial period before COVID-19 and now finds itself facing even higher levels of uncertainty. In the future it is imperative that we continue to be able to balance its budget so that we can afford the important major redevelopment projects. We must ensure that our reserves are kept above the minimum required level in 2021/22 which makes the budget-setting process more important than ever.
As well as the budget consultation our new local plan, which guides how and where development can take place within the town, we will soon be out for consultation towards the end of January. The plan includes a minimum target of 4,275 new homes by 2039 and we are expected to see significant growth for Hastings during this period.
As we start the year facing more challenges our community hub is still here for those in need with details on our website. Let's all try to support each other to get through and continue to be kind and considerate.
Council Leader's column