Grants cuts ‘astonishing’

A SENIOR councillor has branded the difference in Hartlepool’s Government grant cuts compared to other areas as “astonishing”.

Independent councillor Cath Hill was speaking at a recent Hartlepool Borough Council cabinet meeting, which met to discuss budget proposals for the 2012-13 year.

The council has to cut £15m from its £90m budget over the next three years, with £6.7m being slashed next year alone.

A report highlighted that Hartlepool is facing a “spending power” cut – which is based on the reduction in Government grants – of £200 per head of population this year and next year.

That figure is higher than Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton and the England average, which was just below £100.

The report showed that Richmond on Thames, Hampshire and Surrey had suffered spending power cuts of less then £50 per head of population.

Coun Hill said: “I find that absolutely astonishing.

“There seems to be almost a conspiracy to punish us for living where we do.”

The Government’s deficit reduction plans will reduce support for local authorities by 26 per cent by 2014-15.

The cuts are front-loaded and the biggest impact is on councils who rely on Government grants, including Hartlepool and the 11 other North-East councils.

One example from this year is the core formula grant.

The council received £51.5m in 2010-11 but that was cut by £6.1m, or 12 per cent, this year.

The working neighbourhood fund was also cut completely this year.

Despite the cut to Government grants, Mayor Stuart Drummond said it was a “phenomenal achievement” to achieve a balanced budget next year but warned it will be tougher in the next few years after that.

He added: “We are facing huge cuts.

“This year we have got away without front-line changes but that will come next year and the year after.

“When that is presented it will really exercise people’s minds.”

All of the proposals will now go to the council’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee as part of the ongoing consultation.

The budget is not approved until a meeting of the full council in February.