‘Give us a fairer deal’ - cash-strapped Hartlepool’s plea to government

Hartlepool Council Leader Christopher Akers-Belcher and Chief Executive Gill Alexander.''Picture: TOM BANKS
Hartlepool Council Leader Christopher Akers-Belcher and Chief Executive Gill Alexander.''Picture: TOM BANKS

Council chiefs are putting the heat on the Government for a fairer funding deal after revealing the multi-million pound pressures facing Hartlepool.

Hartlepool Borough Council bosses say future cuts won’t come from drastically reducing services in town - because there’s none spare to cut.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Instead, it’s time for the Government to step up and look at fairer funding for towns like Hartlepool, said the town’s council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher and authority chief executive Gill Alexander.

In an interview with the Hartlepool Mail, they revealed the intense pressure on the council.

The revenue support grant has been slashed from around £40million to £21million since 2013;

The whole of the council’s budget has gone down from just under £100million to £81million;

We are probably, over the next two years, facing something like a £6million pressure on our budget and you cant take £6million out of £12million and not do damage

Gill Alexander

Out of that £81million, £69million of it goes on essential services;

And there’s likely to be a £6million pressure on existing budgets in the next two years;

The council is also trying to find £2.5million extra because of rising pressures on authorities over child social care (including children being taken into protection).

All this is facing a council which is the second smallest unitary authority in the country, said Gill Alexander.

Out of an £81million budget, “£69 million is services that we must provide,” she said.

“They are services such as adult social care packages, packages of support around children in need, services like picking up the bins, and lighting the streets.”

She said only £12million was on services “where we have some choices over.

“There is very little left now.

“We are probably, over the next two years, facing something like a £6million pressure on our budget and you cant take £6million out of £12million and not do damage.

“It is about the need for a fairer funding model nationally which I think is going to be a big priority for Christopher and myself next year, to continue with that national debate and pushing for that national debate on proper and fair funding.”

A solution, she said, could not be found in massive cuts to services because ”we have not got the services left any more to cut.”

Child social care, she added, was “a national problem”.

Nationally, the Local Government Association is forecasting a £2billion shortfall in local government funding over it. “In Hartlepool, we have seen a 40 percent increase in the amount of money we are having to spend on making sure that children are protected and cared for if they taken into care.”

But it’s not the only threat. All councils have had a significant cut in their revenue support grant and the government was expecting councils to bridge that gap through Council Tax, said the Hartlepool officials.

“In some areas which are rich, which have large numbers of properties in the higher end for Council Tax, a one per cent increase on their Council Tax will generate more money than it would for Hartlepool per head of population,” said Gill Alexander.

The biggest single challenge, she said though, was one which the council was not able to predict three years ago.

“We would not be facing the kind of pressure that we were facing if it had not been for the significant increase in the pressures we are facing in terms of children who are in need of protection, or sadly who have had to be taken into care.”

She said the problem was a national one but it was “particularly acute in Hartlepool.

“As a result of that, we are now facing a £2.5million pressure on our budget and we are not certain where we can get the money from to bridge that gap.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said it would need “something like a 7% increase in Council Tax to bridge the children’s social care deficit.”

Gill said: “We can’t do that through Council Tax.”