Observer column: 25 January 2019
Last week, The Observer published an article explaining the budget crisis that Hastings Council is facing. Coupled with huge cuts to government grants, we've had big additional costs, including the new waste contract and escalating homelessness, leaving us with a gap in a £15m budget of over £3m. There's not much cheer in that. But this week, I want to concentrate on the positives - what the council can and will still be doing.
These big cuts to our mainstream budget mean that many services, over the last nine years, have been hugely reduced or discontinued. So Hastings Council has turned its attention instead to services and initiatives that can be funded from external grants, or projects that are self-financing.
During 2018, the council secured and extra £6.7m through competitive applications to external grant funds. Most of this was from the EU, about half of it from our successful bid to the Community-Led Local Development Programme, to fund employment and community development projects in the most deprived parts of Hastings and Bexhill. These projects are currently being commissioned, and will commence during the coming year. Our Fisheries Local Action Group EU funding has provided over a million pounds for projects to benefit the local fishery, the Coastal Communities UK government fund provided business start-up units in Rock House and improvements to the seafront (some still to be installed), and new funding from the EU 'Desti-Smart' programme will pay for research and development for sustainable transport systems, including the long-awaited 'minitram' along the seafront.
Our successful bid to a government fund to help reduce rough sleeping means we're developing a 'housing first' initiative for rough sleepers, getting them into temporary accommodation where their needs can be assessed and intensive support provided. Six rough sleepers have already been provided with temporary accommodation and assessment, with two of them now in permanent homes.
And we're putting more bids in of course, including funds to boost creative and cultural activities, and a major new government fund to improve town centres.
As well as these external funds, there are self-funding schemes we've embarked on. The biggest of these is the private sector housing licensing scheme, which has led to big improvements in the standards of private rented housing. Over 7,000 private rented homes have now been licensed, with increasing numbers of successful prosecutions carried out against recalcitrant landlords.
There are redevelopment schemes in the pipeline too, which can be funded from income generated or homes sold. These include our 2018 manifesto commitments to the redevelop of West Marina for mixed housing and leisure use, and the White Rock and Bohemia area project to provide a new leisure centre, new performance venue, new pleasure gardens, and housing.
We'll also be revising our local plan. This is something we have to do, but will be linked to producing an 'Area Action Plan' for White Rock and the Town Centre, as well as delivering our commitment to tackle climate change by identifying new sites for sustainable energy generation and introducing new planning policies to require more stringent standards for energy efficiency in new homes.
And there's much more - so it's not all bad news. These are challenging times, but we'll keep up our record of winning extra funds for Hastings, and using whatever methods we can to continue to regenerate our borough, help those in the greatest need, and boost the local economy.
Council Leader's column