Observer Column 8 December 2023
A budget for hope
It has been a really tough year for local government finance, nationally and locally. Really big authorities like Birmingham and Nottingham have run out of money.
And there has been speculation the same will happen in Hastings.
Well, not on my watch. I came into politics to help make a real difference for the ward I am proud to represent, Hollington, and for Hastings, and to do that we need a strong and forward-looking council. So, the policy of using our reserves to plug gaps in the budget has to stop. Reserves are essential for when an unforeseen disaster hits the town, and after an awful year of flooding, we can see that could happen any time.
And if we do use reserves instead of making savings, they will run out soon. And then the council will not be viable.
So, this week, after weeks of consultation, I have published final budget proposals for next year with three key priorities:
Don't use our reserves
Live within our means
Protect frontline services
Because of the national and local housing crisis, we are now providing temporary accommodation for 1,000 residents. That costs £11m a year, of which government gives us half. So we have to find the remaining £5.5m this year, and next year, even though we are now buying homes to reduce costs and provide more security for residents, next year we will need to find £4m in savings to cover this ongoing housing crisis.
So how will we do that without cutting those services like housing, waste collection and street cleaning, and parks that you value the most?
We need to transform the council from a large organisation that tries to do everything into a smaller enabling council that has partnerships as a priority. Partnerships with other councils, which helps us reduce our back office costs, partnerships with government, such as Levelling Up that leads to new investment in housing and health, and partnerships with our excellent local voluntary sector, who bring new ideas and energy to the provision of key services.
Hastings is a unique town, full of creativity, passion and pride. If we can harness all this to the increased inward investment we are attracting, we can give real hope to all of our communities. Hope that we will have better health services, better education, better housing and better jobs. Hope that the excellent quality of life enjoyed here by many can be enjoyed by all.
I think this budget will achieve this, and so, it is a budget for hope. And a budget that will ensure a strong and secure future for the council and for all of Hastings.
We will vote on this next Wednesday at a special Full Council meeting. I hope and expect it to be agreed. Then we can all get on with making this town even more special.
Council Leader's column