Next month the budget for Hastings Borough Council will be set. Council tax will undoubtably rise and charges across many council services will be increased. But will we be getting a better service from our local council?
Hastings Borough Council is in crisis. The Labour administration have had 12 years running the council and have refused to make the necessary decisions which could have secured a better future for our borough. Ever since becoming a councillor, I have heard the Labour administration blaming a lack of government funding for all their problems. It is a worn-out mantra which has once again been wheeled out in the budget consultation paper this year.
But this thinking reveals a naivety which makes the presumption that local authorities will get suddenly flooded with money if governments change. This presumption is deeply flawed, and local authorities are unlikely to see money thrown at them again like it was in the 2000s.
So instead of dealing with the reality of the council’s financial situation the Labour administration are content to use up the town’s savings to balance the books.
There is one possible solution to help alleviate the council’s funding woes, and it is one I am happy to reveal my support for.
Residents of Hastings and St Leonards are governed locally by two different councils depending on which services you access. At the top level, East Sussex County Council provides services such as, education, highways and social care with Hastings Borough Council providing services such as rubbish collection, planning and emergency housing.
I believe it is time for our local authorities to get together and combine all these services under one unitary authority. One (unitary) tier of local government providing all our local services.
Quite often one council is made a scapegoat for the other and many people do not understand the differences between the two. What is the point of having two tiers of local government? Lots of town halls, admin staff and duplicated departments. East Sussex could easily be split in to two unitary authorities.
In theory you can pool resources and save money through economies of scale. A one-stop-shop for residents and businesses to access all council services.
Councils need to engage with the idea and show local communities a unitary council can work and deliver better value for money and provide efficient, joined-up services. At the same time making sure that local people do not feel their local authority is remote.
We need radical thinking so we can give citizens local services they understand, as well as provide better value for money. Don’t let that automatic direct debit distract you from questioning where your council tax goes.