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Council headquarters at Muriel Matters (ex Aquila) House.

Council headquarters at Muriel Matters (ex Aquila) House.

Modest tax increase proposed in council budget

Hastings Borough Council has unveiled proposals for its 2017/18 budget, including a £5 a year increase in council tax. In the face of continuing swingeing cuts in government grant, it is working hard to raise additional income, according to council leader, Peter Chowney. Its proposals are now out to consultation. Nick Terdre reports.

Whatever wishes prime minister Theresa May may have expressed on taking office about wanting a fairer society, they have done nothing to stay the axe that has been applied to council funding since the days of her predecessor, David Cameron.

While the demand for many council services, such as helping the homeless, rises, central government funding steadily shrinks. As council leader, Peter Chowney explained, “We are faced with continuing cuts from our government grant, which has fallen by over 50% since 2010…

Council leader Peter Chowney.

Council leader, Peter Chowney.

“This year alone we are faced with a cut of well over £1 million in our total government grant, our ‘revenue support grant’ has been cut by £797,000 (a 28.1% cut) and there were unexpected cuts to other grants too, for example our ‘new homes bonus’ funding is being reduced by £379,000 (a 27.3% cut).”

According to the council’s proposed budget, total expenditure will fall by some 4% from £16.7 million in 2016/17 to just under £16 million in 2017/18, and total funding from £14.4 million to £13.6 million, leaving a deficit of £2.3 million in rounded figures. The council proposes to draw down reserves by £600,000 to help plug the gap.

Raising additional income

The council is looking for a 2% increase in council tax, equivalent to £5 a year for a Band D property. “But that doesn’t go nearly as far as we would like it to in balancing our books,” says Mr Chowney. Instead big efforts are being made to raise additional income.

“Renting out the town hall gives us nearly £100,000 per annum, and commercial property investments such as the new BD food factory, the seafront kiosk and buying the retail park in Sedlescombe Road North will raise around £500,000 a year,” he said.

“We are having to raise fees and charges too, including car parking and our beach huts. We continue to ‘invest to save’ – buying our main office accommodation Muriel Matters House last year will save us £75,000 per annum.” Some £150,000 a year is being saved by working more efficiently and ‘going digital.

Inevitable cuts

Nevertheless some cuts are inevitable, Mr Chowney said. Grants to the voluntary sector in 2017/18 will be reduced by £42,000. The equivalent of around nine full-time council posts will be lost. The Harold Place and Ore Village toilets will be closed.

Parking charges are set to rise.

Parking charges are set to rise.

“But it’s not all bad news,” Mr Chowney said. “We will invest more in waste and street cleaning – and in our cultural development. Our capital programme includes further improvements to Pelham Arcade, the country park, coastal defence and more.

“We will continue to generate new income where possible, for example through setting up our own housing company, investing in more beach huts, using our parks and open spaces for new events that don’t just make us money but add to our community and cultural life, and through energy generation.

“We will work with partners to attract investment into the area, continue to lobby for high speed rail, and continue to promote Hastings as a great place to live, visit, work and invest in.”

Increased land disposals

Land disposals will make a major contribution to additional income, raising an expected £3.8 million compared with £969,000 in 2016/17. Disposals will include the Harrow Lane playing fields and the former bathing pool site.

“So although there is no doubt that the budget will be tough, we will do all we can to be more efficient, improve our performance and customer care and get the very best for local people,” Mr Chowney concluded.

However, it appears the council has given up hopes of saving the Hastings campus in its present form. Mr Chowney said the council would “continue to support higher education in Hastings and a successor to the University of Brighton.”

Full details of the 2017/18 budget – and how to comment on it – can be found on the council website. The consultation will run from Friday 13 January to Friday 10 February. The proposed budget will come before the council at a meeting on Wednesday 22 February.

Posted 18:43 Saturday, Jan 14, 2017 In: Home Ground


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms. doubtfire

    Hmm – this lengthy document is full of wild and wondrous things – none of which are in evidence or likely to be in the future:
    There has been far too much of our money wasted on unnecessary projects. And included within these ‘unnecessary’ projects one has to include the massive legal costs which have been spent on failed planning appeals and other planning issues.

    What about the Section 106 fiasco which appears to permit developers to put in applications for small properties paying the appropriate S.106 fee and then re-applying for larger properties without incurring any additional S.106 costs. We need these S.106 monies in this town so why is this council quite happy to allow developers to get round this little loophole? I thought affordable housing contributions was high on the Agenda here.

    What level of mortgage has the council taken upon this town in order to purchase Aquila House for £4m? How much will the rebranding of the name of this edifice to honour Muriel Matters cost? I wonder if this good lady would have approved of this expenditure.

    One has to question the expenditure on the wooden ‘kiosk’ on the promenade – boarded up and fenced off – where was the logic in that? Plus the sad looking cordyline trees planted in huge wooden troughs – now gradually losing all green fronds from the tops of these sad looking pretend palm trees. Who oversaw this laughable project? Not a gardener that is for sure.
    There is a litany of bad moves within this council – do none of our councillors ever sit back and consider how others see this? Obviously not.

    Comment by Ms. doubtfire — Monday, Jan 16, 2017 @ 13:32

  2. Chris Hurrell

    The corporate statement includes the following statements concerning green spaces:

    “The best of our historic built and natural environment will be preserved, while embracing new developments that excite and enrich our town›s appearance.”

    “The green spaces and public areas of the town need to be safe, well maintained and clean so they can be enjoyed by residents and visitors.”

    Sadly my experience of how the debacle at Ecclesbourne Glen has been handled does not give me great confidence. Ecclesbourne Glen demonstrates how development has been given priority over all other considerations and that such development has been allowed to destroy an irreplaceable part of our natural environment. One can only hope that in the future HBC will be changing the way it operates – to date I see no evidence of this happening.

    The corporate plan also says that:

    “We believe that the council should uphold a culture of co-operation, openness,fairness and transparency in all it does, enabling local people to hold us to account and other agencies to work with us.”

    My experience to date is that there is no such culture of openness, fairness and transparency when it comes to planning matters. HBC have consistently ignored evidence submitted by the public and denied release of information into the public domain. The Ombudsman recognises HBC’s faults.

    HBC have consistently failed to release vital information requested about the landslip and Rocklands under Freedom of Information Legislation and we are forced to take each request to the Information Commissioner. In a recent ruling the ICO has ruled that such information should be released. There are several further ICO complaints in the pipeline.

    Most councillors will not reply to emails on the matter and the ruling Labour Group and some officers have done their best to stigmatise and marginalise SEG.

    In the last year HBC have introduced a vexatious complaints policy, have agreed to implement a charging policy for all planning enquiries and have got rid of planning notification letters. None of this bodes well for the future.

    Such grand sentiments of openness and transparency have been expressed in previously published corporate statements. I can only hope that this new corporate statement will be more than spin and will lead to fundamental changes in the way HBC operates.

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Sunday, Jan 15, 2017 @ 15:53

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