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Outside BD Foods new factory unit, managing director John Davis, far right, next to council leader Peter Chowney (photo: HBC).

BD Foods, one of the commercial operations acquired by HBC under its income generation programme. Council leader Peter Chowney is second from right (photo: HBC).

Council tax bills set to rise as funding cuts go on

It’s budget time for local government and both Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council are grappling with continuing cuts in central government funding. In their turn, residents face increased council tax bills. Nick Terdre reports.

For the second year running HBC will be obliged to draw down reserves to cover the  shortfall in income over planned expenditure, this time to the tune of £923,000. The deficit is set to continue rising in coming years, and will reach a forecast £2.3 million in 2021/22, according to the council’s budget document.

Residents will have to pay more for local services as the council proposes to raise its part of council tax by 2.99%.

According to council leader Cllr Peter Chowney, since 2010/11 HBC funding has been cut by more than 65% in cash terms on a like-for-like basis. Whitehall policy is to force local councils increasingly to raise their own funds.

Nevertheless, Cllr Chowney has some positives to report, including progress in income generation: “…because of careful management over the past year, which includes the extra income raised from our investment in commercial property, I am pleased to confirm that we are proposing that there will be no redundancies this coming year,” he said.

“Our priorities are economic and physical regeneration, cultural regeneration, intervention where it’s needed, creating decent homes, an attractive town, a greener town, and transforming the way we work.

“We are particularly mindful that some parts of the town consistently appear amongst the most deprived in the country, and we intend continuing to work hard with partners to tackle issues such as unemployment, education, and healthcare,” he said.

Car parking charges will not be raised and there are no plans to close more public lavatories.

The public is invited to comment on the budget proposals. The budget report and corporate plan can be seen here, along with instructions on submitting comments.

The consultation is open until Friday 9 February. The budget and corporate plan will be voted on by the full council on Wednesday 21 February.

The view from County Hall

Meanwhile the ESCC Cabinet will meet on Tuesday 23 January to decide recommendations which will go for final approval by the full council at its meeting on Tuesday 6 February. A public consultation will then be held on some of the savings proposals.

Having already had its funding cut by £113 million since the coalition government took office in 2010, the authority says it has to find savings of a further £17 million in 2018/19 at a time of rising demand for services.

This year’s savings target, originally £22 million, has been lowered “thanks to careful planning, efficiency savings and the Government allowing local authorities to increase council tax by a further one per cent – a move that would generate an additional £2.6 million for services in East Sussex,” ESCC says.

The proposed budget includes a 3% precept allowed by Whitehall in 2017 to meet part of the rising cost of social care and an increase in council tax of 2.99%.

“Even with the money a council tax increase would generate, and the additional efficiency savings we have been able to identify, we have some very tough choices to make to deliver a balanced budget,” Cllr David Elkin, deputy leader and lead member for resources, said.

Libraries targeted

Cuts have been proposed to the county’s network of libraries, some adult social care services and to the number of household waste and recycling sites; charges may be introduced for some types of non-household waste, and support may be reduced for performance and improvement in schools.

Savings will also be made from back-office and support services, and by sharing finance, IT and HR functions with other local authorities under the Orbis partnership, Cllr Elkin said.

ESCC’s proposed budget includes £99.3 million of capital investment, including support to provide extra school places and transport improvements for drivers, cyclists and walkers.

The cross-party Stand Up for East Sussex campaign last autumn attempted to highlight the financial challenges faced by local government in the region ahead of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s November budget, but achieved little response.

Council tax bills will also reflect the East Sussex Police and Crime Panel’s approval of a 7.8% increase for police services, equivalent to an average £12 for county residents.

 

Posted 11:49 Sunday, Jan 21, 2018 In: Home Ground


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