£6m cuts to budget agreed

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COUNCILLORS have finally agreed plans which will see £6m slashed from Hartlepool Borough Council’s budget.

A 90 minute debate last night saw councillors thrashing out the 2012-13 budget plans which included freezing council tax.

They also opted against privatising the joint ICT, revenues and benefits contract due to the up-front costs involved.

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That was despite calls from Mayor Stuart Drummond and the cabinet to do so.

The contract would need the council to agree a six-figure up-front cost.

Mayor Drummond said it would save jobs, create jobs and save almost an eight-figure sum over the length of the seven-year contract.

But the Labour Group said the jobs could not be guaranteed and the savings were projected figures that may not materialise.

In response, Mayor Drummond said the amendments made council workers “vulnerable”, as the savings would still need to be made.

The meeting was held after Mayor Drummond objected to a series of amendments put at the last meeting, which centred on the outsourcing.

Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said the Labour Group amendments offered a “greater safeguard” to the workforce.

He said: “Our decision further gives the council the opportunity to explore all available options, including scrutiny co-ordinating committee’s recommendations for an in-house option for the delivery of revenues and benefits and ICT, to realise greater, robust savings for the benefit of Hartlepool.”

Other agreed amendments include:

• Creating a £181,500 ward fund that will see councillors given individual budgets to manage.

• A £50,000 reserve for a furniture project.

• Using £50,000 to retrain staff on the redeployment register.

Councillors voted in favour of the amendments by 30 votes to eight.

The multi-million pound cuts will see at least 42 redundancies.

Speaking after the vote, Mayor Drummond said he respected the council’s decision.

He added: “I have to point out that council agreed with 99.5 per cent of the proposals so nine months of work was not wasted.

“The budget we now have still stands us in pretty good stead to tackle the difficult times ahead.”

He said the cabinet had strived to protect as many jobs and front-line services as possible.

Councillor Rob Cook, chairman of the Labour group, said: “We honestly believe our proposal was the best for the people of this town.”

Conservative group leader Ray Wells said: “I am delighted we have come to the correct conclusion that will protect jobs and save the council tax payers of Hartlepool.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Arthur Preece said: “It provides an opportunity for a further look at the ICT contract.”

Labour cabinet members Jonathan Brash, Ged Hall, Pamela Hargreaves, Peter Jackson, Robbie Payne and Chris Simmons did not attend.

Eight independents, including Mayor Drummond and cabinet members Cath Hill and Hilary Thompson, voted against the amended budget.