Chief executive hits out

Paul Walker
Paul Walker

HARTLEPOOL Borough Council chief executive Paul Walker has likened national spending cuts to a “war on local government”.

Speaking at a meeting of the cabinet committee, which had met to discuss how the council intends to bridge a huge funding gap, Mr Walker said the current situation was “dire”.

The council is faced with a £6.6m budget deficit for the 2012-13 financial year while the local authority needs to slash £14.7m from its £90m budget over the next three years.

It comes just weeks after councillors approved the budget for the current year, which saw 73 redundancies announced and services either axed or scaled back.

Mr Walker described national cuts to local authority budgets as a “war on local government”.

He said: “There are three areas. Cut off the supply by stopping the money, the propaganda war and taking out the leadership by having a go at chief executives and saying get rid of them.

“This is trying to reduce the size of the public sector and reduce the size of local government.

“If you do not give them money then they can’t do anything.”

He added: “The £14.7m over the next three years does not include redundancy costs, which would be quite significant. It was £1.7m this year.

“We are in a dire financial position. Large deficits are going to have to be funded so we are going to have to make some extremely difficult decisions over the next couple of years.”

Officers and councillors are looking at a number of ways to bridge the deficit including prioritising services, commissioning services, sharing services, reviewing procurement processes, increasing income and working more closely with other local authorities.

But Labour councillor Robbie Payne hit out and said plans to make savings were not happening quickly enough.

Coun Payne said: “It is time we take the bull by the horns and say what we can and can’t do.

“Unless we start doing something then we are just wasting our time.

“Let’s be more positive and not just doom and gloom merchants.”

Mayor Stuart Drummond said slow progress can be “frustrating” for members, but said everyone must pull together.

He added: “Judging by the comments from officers and members everybody is up for the challenge. I know that the cabinet and officers are.

“The next 12 months will be the most testing time we have known in local government.”