Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher has hit out at what he describes as a “ruthless attack” on the people of Hartlepool after a much larger than expected cut in government grant.
According to finance chiefs at Hartlepool Borough Council, it faces a cut of over £4.8million for the 2016/17 year, £2million more than the anticipated £2.8million cut in grant.
The Government has stated that the overall funding cut for the year is 3%, but for Hartlepool, that figure is 14%.
The council is also coping with the loss of £3.9million in business rates every year, after a recent appeal by Hartlepool Power Station to the Valuation Office Agency.
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “This is a further savage cut by the Government and a ruthless attack on the people of our town.
“As a council, I think we have done remarkably well to protect the vast majority of council services in the wake of massive government cuts, but there comes a point – and we may have reached that now – when you simply cannot go on providing services when the money isn’t there.
This is a further savage cut by the government and a ruthless attack on the people of our townCoun Christopher Akers-Belcher
“There are high levels of deprivation in areas of the town where support is vital for some of the most vulnerable members of society, but the government just don’t recognise this.”
Coun Akers-Belcher wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month as he requested a meeting to argue for a fairer funding package for Hartlepool.
Over the last five years, the council has had its main government grant cut by nearly 40%.
Coun Akers-Belcher added: “It is disingenuous of the Government to say that the overall funding cut for 2016/17 is 3%, when in reality for Hartlepool it is 14%.
“Hartlepool is being hit much harder by the Government than most other areas of the country, which is wrong and grossly unfair.
“All we are asking for is a level playing field and the Government to be fair, so that we can provide a level of service and support to the people of our town which they richly deserve.
“The Government seems to be signalling through this budget that they do not value the role that local government plays in supporting our vulnerable residents.
“What is hidden in this budget is that central government are slowly, and covertly, shifting the responsibility for funding social care, from itself (through its annual grant to local authorities) onto councils, and therefore council tax payers.
“This is on top of the fact that the social care system has been massively under-funded at a national level for a number of years.”
Over the last five years, the spending cut in Hartlepool per head of population is £313, compared to a national average of £131.
Meanwhile, the affluent Windsor & Maidenhead has seen a spending cut of just £14 over the same period.
Coun Akers-Belcher, who is planning a series of urgent meetings and says a report will be released early next year, said: “We now face an extremely worrying time over the next couple of months working out how we are going to cut at least a further £2million from our budget.”
Cuts are twice the national average, says MP
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright raised in Parliament the issue of grants at the council.
He said: “Hartlepool Borough Council’s grant has been reduced by 40% over the past five years.
“That equates to a cut in spending power of £313 per Hartlepool resident, which is twice the national average.
“In addition, the council has lost – this year, and in recurring years – £3.9million from the business rates of the nuclear power station, which previously equated to a quarter of all business rates collected in the town.
“The council had no say, no power and no influence in regard to that decision, which makes a mockery of the Secretary of State’s claim in his statement that retaining 100% of business rates would ‘forge the necessary link between local business success and local civic success.’
“Given the real threats to the provision of local services, and the somewhat distinctive nature of the local economy and the business rates base, will the Secretary of State acknowledge that Hartlepool faces a real problem, and will he agree to meet me and discuss ways of mitigating the massive pressure on the council’s budgets?”
The response from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, said: “Of course I recognise that in particular instances – such as the nuclear power station that the hon. Gentleman mentioned – there is a very specific impact, and I shall be happy to meet him to discuss that.
“However, as chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, he will know that businesses have long called for a closer connection between councils and the businesses in their areas.
“The 100% retention of business rates will create an unbreakable link between the success of businesses and councils, and I would expect the hon. Gentleman to welcome that in his capacity as chairman of the Committee.”