Observer column 26 May 2023
A challenging year ahead
I was delighted that at this week's Annual Council meeting, an all-female Mayoral team was elected. Cllr Margi O'Callaghan is our new Mayor, with Cllr Heather Bishop as her Deputy. We also confirmed that the council leadership team will continue for another year, with me still as Leader, Maya Evans as Deputy and the rest of Cabinet unchanged.
Ali Roark leads on Environment, Judy Rogers on Planning, Community Safety, Governance and Disabled Access, Andy Batsford on Health and Culture. John Cannan continues as Chair of the Charity Committee with Simon Willis still leading on Finance and Equalities.
A strong and professional team to lead the council through what promises to be a very challenging year. Challenging for the council itself, as we have to ensure financial stability, and challenging because we will demand that the government and other key organisations do more for Hastings.
Key to achieving a balanced budget will be tackling the local housing crisis. Homelessness is getting worse, mainly due to the dramatic increases in the costs of rents/mortgages, energy and food. More than 1,000 local residents are now in temporary accommodation provided by the council. They all need to find secure local affordable homes, and we are starting to buy and build these as fast as we can. 250 new homes will be ready by next year, mostly far more energy efficient than most local stock, so cheaper to live in.
We are also launching a new grant scheme to help residents stay in their homes even when access is made difficult due to disabilities. But for this to be really efficient, we need the County Council, the NHS and our local social landlords to do more too. Some elderly residents are being expected to strip wash if they can't get to their bathrooms. This has to stop.
I will also be writing publicly to Southern Water, after their recent public apology for recent poor service. We need far more investment here, and quickly, as the creaking infrastructure of under size sewage pipes keep leaking. And I really don't see why residents should have to pay for this after years of under investment, shareholder payouts and large salaries by Southern Water.
As for the government, we will be asking them firmly to help us improve local services. We need much better access to our GPs, we need to keep vital services at the Conquest, we need more help for our young people through youth services and schools, we need our roads properly maintained. And we want to feel as if Hastings is a trusted partner in our own regeneration. Hopefully the promised Levelling Up Partnership can provide all this. If not, we will be shouting about it.
Council Leader's column