COUNCILLORS across all political parties unanimously agreed to push ahead with planned budget cuts in the wake of the biggest reduction in Government funding in decades.
Hartlepool Borough Council will receive £14.2m less in Government grants for 2011-12 – down 19 per cent on the previous year.
Labour councillors hit out at the “ferocious” cuts, saying this equates to a drop of £112 “per man, woman and child” in the town, which is the ninth biggest reduction in the country and compares to a national average fall per head of £49.
The council faces further grant cuts in 2012-13, which means a 25 per cent reduction over two years and £7.5m less for that year.
While casualties of the cuts included 13 local-authority supported bus services saving £372,000, the Dial-a-Ride service, saving £209,000 and 86 council staff redundancies, residents were granted a slight reprieve as councillors voted to freeze the current council tax level for the coming year.
The council tax decision is in order to qualify for a £1m Government grant equivalent to a 2.5 per cent council tax rise.
The community pool, a cash grnt scheme which supports the voluntary sector, was reduced by £50,000, instead of an initial proposal of £134,000.
West View Library and Community Centre, in Miers Avenue, and community centres in Jutland Road and Seaton Carew will stay open for nine months using £46,000 insurance money set aside to replace the stolen deputy mayoral chains, stolen in a raid on New Year’s Day night in 2008, as well as other uncommitted funds from other budget savings.
This will give voluntary groups time to come up with viable ways of keeping the facilities open.
Mayor Stuart Drummond criticised Government departments, saying no planning had gone into Hartlepool’s “unfair” situation whatsoever and added: “It’s not a situation we want to be in – this budget made the best of a bad situation.”
Councillor Chris Simmons, leader of the Hartlepool Labour group, said the cuts in Hartlepool were the “harshest in living memory” and urged councillors to put aside party allegiance and work together to stand up against the Government’s “vicious and unrealistic settlement” for the good of Hartlepool.
Conservative Councillor Chris McKenna agreed Hartlepool’s budget was “mediocre”.
The public gallery was packed with 65 residents and voluntary sector workers, worried about how the cuts would affect them, and some had to be turned away when seating reached its full capacity.
Various representatives were allowed to ask Mayor Stuart Drummond and councillors questions about the budget, largely seeking reassurances that all avenues had been explored before implementing any cuts on services in the voluntary sector.
• HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright is today set to make a plea in the House of Commons to save Cleveland Fire Brigade from severe budget cuts.
The Labour MP will address the speaker John Bercow to discuss the importance of industry on Teesside and the national impact should the fire service be impeded in tackling major fires.