Hastings Borough Council sets its annual budget at a special meeting in February every year. It had traditionally been an exercise where both sides enjoy vigorously debating the merits and demerits of the council finances, after which opposition amendments would be voted down by the ruling majority on the council.
Ordinarily my amendments into the budget are centred around the need to close the increasing and alarming hole in the council budget by reducing spending including a reduction of staff numbers at the council. This is a key strategic priority (or should be) for the council and I have banged the drum for this for all the council budgets whilst I have been Leader of the Conservatives.
This year is no different. Hastings Borough Council desperately needs to find urgent savings and find them immediately if it has a chance of long-term survival. This year’s deficit is over £1.5 million, which, for a small local authority like Hastings, is a huge sum and action must be taken to rectify this. A major reorganisation is called for to stop the rot. This process should have started last year when a new post, that of Managing Director was created to replace the two senior director posts. Now the reform must continue through the next senior tier of management and beyond.
What is frustrating is that the Labour administration do not seem to grasp that they must do something. They see the running down of financial reserves and presumably the eventual effective bankruptcy of the council as an act of resistance to the Government somehow. Their petty games will have only one outcome, an eventual and sudden stop of all but essential services and Hastings and St Leonards will suffer as a consequence.
The government have covered much of the costs and the loss of income that Hastings Borough has endured over the last year during the pandemic,in the form of additional funding and grants, so as far of the council finances goes, we are almost in the same position now as we would have been if there had been no crisis. This year would have been the perfect time to re-align the finances and make savings. What happened in the end at the meeting was that the Labour leadership turned down four out of the five crucial Conservative amendments and only accepted a simple word change which was the 5th change amendment we proposed. Next year the deficit will be over £2 million. This free spending by Hastings Borough Council cannot be maintained and for the sake of the survival of the council it must stop.