Grim forecast on balancing budget

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SAVAGE budget cuts over the past two years are just the “tip of the iceberg” according to council chiefs.

Hartlepool Borough Council is facing budget cuts of £9m over the next two years and up to £20m over the next five years, which amounts to almost a quarter of its budget.

Work on balancing the 2013-14 budget is well under way and senior councillors met yesterday to discuss the bleak financial picture.

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

Speaking at the cabinet committee meeting, Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “For the past two years we have been saying it is going to be difficult and hard decisions will have to be made.

“But that was just the tip of the iceberg when we have to save up to £20m from a £90m budget.

“It is going to be pretty grim for the next few years and that is the message that we need to get out there.

“Things are going to stop and close because we can’t afford to provide them.”

The council has already seen £10m cut from its main revenue grant over the past two years.

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

The forecast deficits for the period 2013-14 to 2016-17 are expected to be between £17m and £20m according to the report presented to cabinet.

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

Mayor Drummond asked Chris Little, the council’s chief finance officer, if there was any truth in rumours of “in year” budget cuts being made this year.

Mr Little said he was aware of any.

He added: “It is going to get increasingly difficult to balance the budget. It is important to hammer that message home to members.”

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 frontline services.

Mr Little added: “The council has been very pro-active and implemented some plans early last year, resulting in in-year savings.

“That is the sort of approach that we need to adopt again financially.

“Collaboration won’t solve the problem; it will just help plug the gaps.”

Cabinet members noted the report and referred it to the scrutiny co-ordinating committee as part of the ongoing budget process.

The scrutiny committee is due to meet on Friday at 1pm in the council chamber at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.