Councillors agree to use reserves to safeguard life-saving services

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COUNCILLORS have agreed to use one-off council reserves to secure the future of the lifeguard and school crossing patrol service for two years.

Hartlepool Borough Council - which needs to make budget cuts worth £14m over the next two years - had been considering axing both services in a bid to save cash.

But the leader of the council, Christopher Akers-Belcher and the corporate management team, put forward plans to use council reserves to fund the services and that was agreed yesterday by the finance and policy committee.

The initial budget proposals sparked outrage from those against the plans.

The withdrawal of the lifeguards, which covers Seaton Carew and the Headland between May and the beginning of September, could have save the council £75,000. Meanwhile around £120,000 would also have been saved by removing lollipop men and women from schools across the town.

But now cash from the reserves will be used to cover the cost for the next two years.

Chris Little, chief finance officer, stressed it was “essential” to have “robust reserves” but stressed they were only a “one-off” resource.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “Following a review of the council finances and reserves, I welcome the report which outlined the solution I have worked alongside officers to achieve.

“This will safeguard school crossing patrols and the lifeguard service for not one but for the next two years.

“Budget setting is extremely complex and members of all political persuasions should engage in the process rather than object to cuts without any alternative proposals.”

The plans had initially been thrown out by the council’s neighbourhood services policy committee, chaired by Labour councillor Peter Jackson before then being referred to finance and policy committee for a final decision.

The leader said this fulfilled the commitment “given under the new governance arrangements whereby the council will make decisions that resonate with public expectations”.

Coun Akers-Belcher added: “In addition the Advice and Guidance service, currently funded by the community pool monies at £110,000 shall be safeguarded for a further year - therefore meeting the needs of some of our most vulnerable residents.”