‘Doomsday of the deficit’ - Hartlepool Council chiefs undertake review over £6million black hole ‘of central government’s making’

editorial image

Council bosses are looking to their reserves to help combat a £6million funding deficit.

Hartlepool Council finance and policy committee said it would be holding a review of its reserves after it estimated it would face a deficit of £5.987million for 2019/2020 - a problem, they claim, of ‘central government’s making’.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

Hartlepool Borough Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.

Finance bosses say the deficit, which is quadruple previous predictions, is set to increase in following years, even without further cuts.

Council leader Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher stressed the deficit was out of the council’s control and was down to government funding cuts.

He said: “We need to stress the deficit is not of this council’s making, it’s of central government’s making, who have removed £20million of funding from Hartlepool.

“We need everyone onside, it is everybody’s responsibility. It is a responsibility of the whole council, and I move we write to all councillors for their input.

“There is the doomsday of the deficit burdened on this council from government, but our priority has to be adult services and looking after children.

“We need to look after the vulnerable, the frail and the elderly, and that is what a big part of our budget will go on.”

Coun Brenda Harrison said: “We need to hold the government to account. We need to make sure people know they are responsible for this.

“They are bouncing into councils and I don’t think they care what happens to them.”

In 2019/20 Hartlepool will receive core Government funding of approximately £25.5m, compared to £46.4m in 2013/14, a reduction of 45%.

Council bosses said this is the reason for the increased deficit, along with increasing looked after children pressures and national local government pay awards.

Chris Little, director of finance and policy, said he estimates that, even if government grant cash was frozen at current levels, there would be still be an additional £1.8million deficit for 2020/2021, on top of the existing shortfall.

Mr Little said: “Until about February what we had in place meant we were more or less down to have a balanced budget.

“Unfortunately that is not the case and there is a very significant deficit for 2019/2020.

“Without an increase in government funding there will always be a deficit.”

Nic Marko , Local Democracy Reporting Service