One of the least welcome letters of the year has arrived, the council tax bill. Hastings Borough Council has again opted for the maximum increase they can implement without a referendum having to be called locally to ask voters if they support the increase.
Hastings council tax is high compared to other local authorities locally. Based on a band D property, neighbouring Rother District Council is about £100 a year cheaper to live in. Our nearest city, Brighton, is also about £100 a year cheaper to live in.
Hastings Borough Council published a whole range of figures regarding the town and its residents as part of their corporate plan for the year ahead, in tandem with the annual budget. Amongst the figures are the weekly average earnings for residents in comparison to neighbouring Rother District Council. Residents in Hastings earn an average of £40 less than their neighbours in Rother, surely then the Council should be easing the burden of taxation on its residents rather than increasing it.
Despite increasing taxes, the Council has raided its reserve funds heavily this year to plug a hole in the finances caused by the Labour administrations failure to make enough significant savings again this year. As well as not making enough savings they are continuing to budget huge sums of money on projects that they can ill afford to see through or just don’t make much sense. In fact, despite the public complaining by Labour Councillors about the lack of money coming from central government the Council actually increased it’s expenditure this year on the year before. Recent examples of large sums being spent on projects include £84,000 on a report to tell us if it is a good idea to build a solar farm on the Country Park (it isn’t) and £100,000 on a report about leisure and cultural facilities. Add into this long-standing projects that have increased in expense but not value like the straw built visitors centre and we have a picture of spiralling costs but little return which is poor value for money.
A big test this year will be the new in-house street cleaning contract. This much heralded scheme comes with big expectations and a big price tag also but alarmingly no guarantee that the streets of our town will be any cleaner than they were before. Taking action to get cleaner streets is good, however we must be able to pay for them in the long term and the service must come with a guarantee of better results.