Council budget to be put under scrutiny spotlight

A COUNCIL’S budget plans is set to come under the scrutiny spotlight later this week.

Hartlepool Borough Council is facing a £9m budget deficit over the next two years and finance chiefs admit the ongoing cuts will be “extremely challenging”.

As part of the 2013-14 budget process, the local authority’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee, which is a mix of councillors from across the political spectrum, will meet this Friday to discuss the ongoing cuts.

The bleak financial picture could see the council’s £91m budget slashed by almost a quarter due to national budget cuts over the next five years.

Senior officers including Nicola Bailey, the acting chief executive, chief finance officer Chris Little and director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, Dave Stubbs, are all expected to attend the scrutiny meeting.

The council’s cabinet committee, chaired by Mayor Stuart Drummond, met today to discuss initial plans for the 2013-14 budget.

Their recommendations will then be passed over to the scrutiny co-ordinating committee as part of the budget process.

Council chiefs say it is far too early to say how many jobs and services will be affected.

A report to the scrutiny meeting said: “Following the success of presentations given as part of last years work programming process, the chief executive, assistant chief executive, chief finance officer and director of regeneration and neighbourhoods and assistant director (prevention, safeguarding and specialist services) will be in attendance at the meeting to provide an updated presentation in relation to the council’s budget position for 2013-14 and departmental briefings.”

The mammoth figures come on the back of £6m cuts made this financial year, which saw dozens of people losing their jobs.

The forecast deficits for the period 2013-14 to 2016-17 are expected to be between £17m and £20m according to a new report, due to be presented to today’s cabinet committee.

Mr Little has previously said: “Clearly, making cuts in the order of £17m to £20m from a budget of £91m will be extremely challenging, fundamentally change the council and need careful management.”

Plans to help balance the 2013-14 budget include using one-off resources, savings from ICT and through proposals to collaborate with Darlington Borough Council and Redcar and Cleveland Council. Officers say collaboration will not solve budget deficits, but would help reduce the impact on front-line services.

Almost 90 council workers lost their jobs last financial year and the 2012-13 budget cuts saw 42 redundancies as council officers tried to minimise job cuts.

The scrutiny meeting is due to take place on Friday, June 15, at 1pm in the council chamber at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.