Observer Column 27 October 2023
A fair and legal budget
Last time, I wrote about the challenges of delivering regeneration with new national funding we have been promised. Several of you wrote to me offering to get involved and I will contact all those who did over the next few weeks as we work out what new delivery model is needed.
This time I want to tell you about how we will work out a budget for the next financial year, a budget that we have to ensure balances but also a budget that protects the most vital services for those who need them the most.
After years of cuts, Hastings Council is half the size it used to be. Some services have gone (remember when we had community, play and arts workers?), some have been reduced. But we have managed this well, so that last year even with virtually no government support, all council services apart from housing made a small surplus overall.
But there was a housing crisis coming, a national crisis that has seen property prices and rents rise enormously here, but landlords increasingly giving up, selling up and evicting tenants. If that happens to you, it's really hard to find anywhere affordable locally and so more and more are asking the council for temporary accommodation.
We are legally obliged to provide this in most cases, and now have 1,000 residents depending on us for somewhere to live. So, we in turn rely on being able to find places for us to rent, but these are so scarce in Hastings now that we have to send many people miles away. And the prices we pay have gone up so much, that we now can't afford to keep this vital service going.
This year we will spend well over £5 million on temporary accommodation. That's a third of our budget. Unless there is a change in national housing policy, this will continue next year and the year after. So, to balance our books we have to make massive savings. These cuts will be painful, painful for councillors to decide, painful for our staff, and painful for residents who will see fewer and more expensive services.
We have no choice. The alternative will be allowing government to step in, as in Birmingham, and make local decisions. I don't think you want that, and we won't let it happen.
So, I will publish budget proposals on 10 November and ask the whole of Hastings for a response. Please let us know what you think, and we will listen to residents before making a final decision in December.
In the meantime, please help me by letting me know what you see as priority services, for you, and for those you know. This will help decide what we put into the budget proposals.
You can contact me at: email@example.com
Council Leader's column