Children’s centres and marina festival facing axe

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

YOUTH and children’s centres and a popular festival are facing the axe as council bosses prepare for the most savage budget cuts to date.

Hartlepool Borough Council needs to save around £10m over the next two years as a result of continued reductions in Government funding.

Officers have put forward a range of proposals as the budget process gathers momentum.

Freezing foster care allowances, school transport savings and reduced support to schools have all been proposed.

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Also facing the axe are youth and children’s centres and the biennial Maritime Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors.

There could also be job losses in front line social care services and social work teams the year after.

Council papers reveal closing the centres could save up to £350,000 next year but there are no details yet over which are under threat.

There could also be changes to waste collection and the removal of the subsidy to Carlton Outdoor Centre so schools would have to pay unsubsidised rates.

Officers are also proposing making savings from procurement and contract arrangements.

No details about job losses have been released but senior councillors have stressed the council will need to decide which services are protected and which are stopped completely or scaled back.

Across the three council departments – chief executive, regeneration and neighbourhoods and child and adult services – officers have proposed a savings plan totalling £3.828m for 2013-14.

In total, between 2013 and 2017 the local authority has to save between £18m and £20m from its £91m budget.

Hartlepool Council is also looking to save about £1m through collaboration work with Darlington and Redcar Borough Councils, which could include 40 management posts being axed across the three authorities.

Speaking at a cabinet committee meeting, finance chiefs say the 2013-14 budget can be balanced via the savings plan and the use of one-off funding, worth a total of £1.198m.

But finance chiefs say the picture is bleak.

A report by Chris Little, chief finance officer, said: “Achieving these savings will also be more challenging than in previous year’s owing to the cuts which have already been made and will therefore require robust management to ensure forecast timescales are achieved.

“As savings become more difficult to achieve there is an increasing risk that implementation will be delayed or the actual savings will be less than forecast.

“This position will need very careful management to avoid storing up financial problems for future years.”

The committee, chaired by Mayor Drummond, noted the report and referred it to the scrutiny co-ordinating committee as part of the 2013-14 budget process.

The council has already faced a £10.2m cut in the main revenue grant over the last two years and has had to make significant cuts to balance the books along with around 130 staff losing their job.

Mayor Drummond, who said there was a lot of work to do, added: “This is where it starts in earnest and this highlights our situation extremely clearly.

“This is where we are going to have to consider what goes and what stays.

“I would send this to scrutiny with the strong message that this piece of work is more important than anything else going on at the council at the moment.

“This needs to take precedence and I would urge all members to get involved as it is their responsibility as well as ours.”

He added the council would continue to “bang the drum” at a national level to highlight the financial plight facing Hartlepool as a result of overall changes to the funding system for local authorities.

The proposals will go to scrutiny as part of the consultation process and come back to cabinet later this year.