Observer Column 10 November 2023
A budget to save the council
There has been plenty of media coverage of the council's financial position recently, including national and regional TV explaining how the housing crisis is costing us millions we have not budgeted for.
As a result, there is a lot of talk about this council (and others around the country) going bust. My job is to stop that happening.
This week I wrote to Government, along with more than 100 leaders of other councils, asking for additional help by updating the rates they pay for local housing allowance. Our whole council is working on ways to reduce the staggering costs of providing temporary accommodation (to 1000 people currently). Eventually this will see our costs reduce, but not by enough next year in my view.
I can't solve the national housing crisis. But I have to solve the local budget crisis. It is unthinkable that unelected government officials should come and take over Hastings. We need local democratic leadership, accountable to you, the electorate.
So for the last few weeks I have been working on making the changes needed to enable us to set a balanced budget without using up the remaining reserves. Reserves are there for unforeseen emergencies. And by March we will only have about £4m left in reserve. My view is that must be kept secure. And so we must reduce our spending to balance our budget next year.
Living within our means. Not expecting a government bailout. Facing up to the worst case scenario.
Having decided that is the way forward, I have to find £4m savings next year. To help make that possible, I have brought forward the planning on how to achieve this, and today I am publishing our proposals for a balanced budget that will enable the council to continue.
You can read this on our website. I hope we have described it in a simple and readable way, with a table of the various cuts we think are needed.
The main change is to accept that a small district council like Hastings can no longer afford to have its own dedicated team of lawyers, accountants and planners. So these, and many other back office teams, will move to become shared services. Shared with other councils who are in a similar position. There are plenty of examples where this is working well, and we will move to shared services as soon as possible, saving close to £1m as well as helping to ensure we can recruit and keep the best staff.
What I won't cut are frontline services that you value the most. So our waste and street cleaning, our housing team, our new in house parks, our museum, our sports team, are not on the list. Nor will I cut our climate emergency fund or the council tax rebate scheme.
Your views are vital now. Do you support this approach? Are there other things you think we should do instead?
The proposals are out for consultation, and on 28 November I will hold an open day at Stade Hall 1-7pm where you can come and discuss the budget with me, other councillors and officers.
Please write to me. Your responses will be considered at the Cabinet meeting in December when a final package for the Council to decide on will be agreed.
Council Leader's column