Last Friday 19th November Hastings Borough Council’s Labour cabinet held a special meeting which forced them to make some very drastic cuts to their budget. The main recommendation on the agenda was for the council to take “robust action” this financial year and coming years to achieve a sustainable budget and maintain the minimum recommended level of reserves.
What does this mean? It means the council has a legal duty to hold a minimum amount of money in reserves not allocated for special projects. Our town’s savings for a rainy day.
The Labour administration have blamed unforeseen expenditure and government underfunding but have failed themselves to take heed of all the warnings given to them time and time again.
They cited “unexpected one-off costs” but reserves, by their very nature, are there to deal with the unexpected. Direct government funding has diminished but the council continue to receive large, targeted grants to help with things like rehoming rough sleepers. Substantial extra money was also given during the pandemic which went to offset the extra spending and lost revenue the council had to bare.
Unfortunately, the real reason the reserves are under pressure is because the Labour run council haven’t been topping them up and have failed to balance previous budgets. In other words, the council have been spending more than it receives and has used the town’s savings to balance the books.
I have been a councillor for more than five years and in that time councillors are briefed every year on the council’s medium term (5 year) financial strategy. At every briefing deficits were forecast and savings and efficiencies were advised by the chief financial officer. The projected deficits turned out to be quite accurate and strangely NOT unexpected.
Did the Labour Council make the efficiency savings recommended and concentrate on its core responsibilities like keeping the streets clean and collecting the rubbish? No. As far back as 2018 the then Labour leader, Peter Chowney told a Full Council budget meeting that he would take a year off from their fiscal responsibilities and subsequently the Labour councillors voted to balance the books with £1 million from reserves that year. The practice hasn’t stopped. At Friday’s meeting Labour councillor, Maya Evans said, “let’s borrow and borrow big”, but the council are already £65 million in debt.
The Conservative group have argued that it is ludicrous to balance the books by using up our savings because it is obvious that eventually you will run out of money. Unfortunately, that’s the position the council finds itself in now.
There are choices to be made, like having council elections every four years instead of every two like most other councils do. This would save the council thousands of pounds every year but strangely Labour refuse to do this.
Cllr. Andy Patmore
from the Hastings Observer 26.11.21