Mayor calls for grant cuts rethink

HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond has written to a government minister to encourage him to think again about savage budget cuts.

Hartlepool Borough Council is faced with slashing 20m from its 90m budget over the next four years, with 150 jobs set to go and proposed closures of branch libraries and community centres.

Mayor Drummond has written to Communities and Local Government

Secretary Eric Pickles as part of the ongoing consultation process.

Usually the council would send a delegation of officers to the capital but the mayor says the authority cannot afford to do so.

In the four-page letter, the mayor outlines the "unfair" cuts and makes suggestions on how the Government could balance out the cuts more fairly.

Mayor Drummond said: "In view of the significant grant reductions facing Hartlepool Borough Council my cabinet and I have decided not to seek a meeting with ministers regarding the revenue support grant consultation, as we do not believe it would appropriate to spend public money sending a delegation (however small) to London.

"Perhaps the minister will consider holding regional consultation meetings in future years in suitable regional locations, rather than rely on everyone travelling to London?"

Although the council has identified several efficiencies, it still faces an estimated 5.6m funding gap for the next financial year.

The cabinet committee met to discuss the latest information regarding the proposed grant settlement reduction, which could see Hartlepool's cut by about 10m.

Hartlepool's settlement was slashed by the maximum 8.9 per cent and that will be even higher once specific grant reductions are included.

Mayor Drummond added: "To put these figures into context for Hartlepool, we are the second smallest unitary council in England, but we are being asked to manage the 82nd highest monetary reduction in 'spending power' – a reduction of 10.32 million, compared to 12.98 million for Essex County Council, which serves a population 15 times the size of Hartlepool.

"The relative harshness of the proposed grant settlement is even more stark when you consider the very low reductions in 'spending power' in other areas of the country, for example Kent 1.82 per cent, Essex 1.31 per cent, Hampshire 0.95 per cent, Wokingham 0.63 per cent, and Surrey 0.31 per cent - I could go on."

Speaking after the meeting, Mayor Drummond said: "We have to take every opportunity we can to show the Government that these cuts are unfair on all North-East local authorities, particularly us."

Final decisions on the budget will not be made until the full council meets in February.