Budget proposals finalised

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PROPOSALS to slash almost £6m from Hartlepool Borough Council’s budget have been confirmed by senior councillors with the loss of 34 jobs.

The popular biennial Maritime Festival is set to be axed, the Headland Sports Centre will be closed at weekends while changes to the waste collection service and reduced support to schools were also included in the cabinet committee’s recommendations to full council.

Savage budget cuts from central Government mean Hartlepool has a budget gap of £5.982m next year, with further cuts of up to £19m needed by the start of 2016-17.

Finance chiefs say they have tried to minimise the impact on job cuts but warn that is not sustainable and warn there will be “significant” redundancies over the next few years.

A spokesman for Hartlepool Borough Council said: “We have managed to keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum by freezing posts when jobs have become vacant.

“We also requested voluntary redundancy applications and 17 are currently being considered. Seventeen members of staff across the Council unfortunately face redundancy but this figure could reduce if those affected seek redeployment.”

Independent councillor Paul Thompson, portfolio holder for finance and corporate services, presented the report and said £3.664m would come from permanent departmental cuts with the balance of £2.318m from one-off resources.

He added: “I believe this budget is the very best we can do based on these difficult circumstances.”

Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “It comes to the point where it seems like we are almost crying wolf because we have done such a good job in minimising the impact, people think everything is rosy.

“But it is getting to the point where people are going to start feeling it in their own pockets.”

Mayor Drummond said budget cuts for the few years were “scary” adding: “There will be some local authorities that will be on the verge of bankruptcy and it may reach that stage until the Government starts to think again at its policy.”

The council’s proposals include making significant savings from procurement and contract arrangements.

Chris Little, chief finance officer, said: “For the 2013-14 budget it has been possible to minimise the numbers of potential compulsory redundancies through careful management of vacancies, which will reduce redundancy and early retirement costs for this year.

“However, this is not sustainable and given the scale of budget cuts which will be required over the period of the medium term financial strategy there will be significant redundancy and early retirement costs in future years.”

Mayor Drummond said a major concern was the funding cut to the Early Intervention Grant, which funds services to give people the best start in life, but said work in Hartlepool would have to be scaled back.

By 2014-15, the EIG will be cut to £4.789m, a £1.6m cut, or 25 per cent, on current funding levels.

Mayor Drummond added: “It is a travesty because it is proven to be working.”

Labour councillor Jim Ainslie asked when the weekend closure of the Headland Sports Centre would come into affect to which John Mennear, the council’s assistant director of community services, said it would be from April.

Mr Mennear, who said the centre was only used by around 35 people on a weekend, said if the demand increased the decision could be reviewed, depending on budgets.

Cabinet’s final proposals will now go before full council, on Thursday, February 14, at 7pm at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.