‘Grim future ahead for town’

Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond
Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond

HARTLEPOOL Mayor Stuart Drummond has warned the town faces a “grim” future as the council battles to save £15m over the next three years.

Mayor Drummond spoke after the council’s cabinet committee met to discuss the “challenging financial position” it currently faces in the wake of devastating Government cuts.

The council needs to make cuts of £14.7m from its £90m budget by March 2014 in “financial challenges that are greater than anything which has existed in the last 50 years”, according to a report to the committee.

This figure is on top of £10m of cuts implemented for the current year.

The council’s chief finance officer, Chris Little, told the meeting: “We are in a really difficult financial position for next year, but also for the following two years.”

He added: “We have got costs of £14m and resources identified of about £9.5m and we are about £4.5m short.

“We are reasonably confident we can manage that funding shortfall in phasing.”

Mr Little said this could be done through capital receipts due over the next three years.

He said a number of “one-off issues” also need to be addressed, including redundancy costs, retirement costs, capital programmes and capital receipts.

He added: “We have a £14.7m budget deficit.

“The anticipation is the budget gap would be balanced each year through sustainable measures.”

Mr Little urged the cabinet to start “very early on” looking at the 2012-13 budget “given the scale of the deficit and the problems we face”.

He added the council had looked at issues that avoid costs impacting on the care budget “as far as we possibly can”.

Mr Little said: “At the end of the next three years, the council will be very different to what it is now.

“To get there, there are going to be a lot of difficult decisions the council needs to make.”

He said a question would be should the local authority freeze next year’s council tax to be eligible for a Government grant or increase it by 2.5 per cent.

But he added more information is needed from the Government regarding next year’s council tax regime.

Mayor Drummond urged councillors and council officers to put forward their ideas of any other ways to save money.

Speaking after the meeting, the Mayor said: “We have got no choice but to get through it.

“We said last year there’s going to be a lot more pain before it gets better.

“Sadly it’s still really grim and very difficult decisions are going to have to be made over the next few months.”