Observer column 3 February 2023
Help Hastings or lose Hastings
I don't usually bring national politics into this column. We have enough to focus on locally.
But the consultation on the Council Corporate Plan and Budget for 23/24 ends today, and I have been reading your thoughts about what our priorities should be. When you ask for better housing, better education, better roads, better health services, I agree with you. But whether these are Hastings Council services or provided by others, there just isn't enough money. After 13 years of cuts, our schools, our NHS, the local Council or the County Council (who look after our roads and pavements) are all on our last legs.
Teachers joined nurses, ambulance and train drivers and others on strike this week. Not because they want to, but because they are desperate. Young people are getting an increasingly poor education, older people increasingly poor health. Public sector workers are having to use our food banks.
And we now have to make really tough choices about what we keep and what we cut.
Our draft plan will be discussed at Budget Cabinet next Monday, and I will then recommend this, along with a budget to deliver the plan, to the Council meeting on February 15. I am clear that the future of the Council depends on getting this right, as if we keep on the way we are, we will run out of money in a couple of years and government will intervene and sell off anything they can. This could happen all over the country unless things change at a national level.
In our case, there are two major threats to Hastings. Firstly the housing crisis. More than 1,000 residents are now in temporary accommodation, which we have a duty to provide. This will cost us £4.5m this year, money we just don't have. So tackling homelessness, in all sorts of radical ways, is our top priority.
Then there is the climate emergency. We declared an emergency three years ago, the first council in England to do so. Many wondered then why we did this. Now the evidence is all around us. Energy prices that no one can afford, polluted seas because our Victorian sewers can't cope with today's storms, and of course flooding. The town centre may have bounced back remarkably after the awful events of January 16, but it will happen again unless we understand the causes and change how we deal with the violent rainfall that comes all too frequently these days.
So, the Council will still empty your bins, clean your streets, encourage tourism to our town, and our wonderful cultural life, but housing and climate change have to be our main focus, or we won't deal with them well enough and the consequences will be dire.
So, I am asking the government for more help on both, help to retrofit our housing so your bills go down and we use less carbon. Help to clean up our seas. Help to stop the flooding. If we don't get help, despite the passion and ingenuity of Hastings, we will fail.
Council Leader's column