Hartlepool council chief blasts Government after funding slashed by £21m in six years

Hartlepool Council Leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.''Picture: TOM BANKS
Hartlepool Council Leader Christopher Akers-Belcher.''Picture: TOM BANKS

Council budget cuts of £3.4m have been approved by Hartlepool councillors.

The savings come after Hartlepool Borough Council’s government funding was slashed by £21 million in just six years by the year 2019-20.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Despite the cuts agreed for 2018-19 and 2019-20, council leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher hit out at nine years of central government finding cuts.

He said the reduction equates to almost £500 for every household in the borough.

Coun Akers-Belcher also said the Government is shifting the cost of funding local services from Government grant and onto council tax paid by local taxpayers.

He said: “As reported in previous years, the cuts in government funding has had a disproportionate impact on areas of higher levels of deprivation and need such as Hartlepool which I believe to be unfair.

“The Government’s grant settlement also continues to shift the cost of funding local services from the Government grant onto council tax.”

In 2013-14, Hartlepool council got £46.4m from the Government which equated to almost half of the local authority’s total budget.

But by 2019-20 that will have fallen to £25.5m.

Coun Akers-Belcher added: “This is the year on year recurring reduction of £21 million in government funding which is the equivalent of a recurring reduction of nearly £500 for every household in the borough.”

As part of a four-year financial strategy the council will dip into £10.6m of its reserves.

Coun Akers-Belcher said: “The use of reserves helps protect services and provide a longer lead time to manage the impact of what is front-loaded government grant cuts.”

He added: “The report before council confirms these savings and includes additional proposals to enable a balanced budget to be set for 2018-19.

“Two thirds of the additional 2018-19 savings proposals reflect corporate savings which won’t impact on services at all.”

He said the remaining third, totalling £278,000, will have a “limited impact” on services.

They include “optimizing” school transport routes to save £40,000, reducing the concessionary fares budget by £20,000 while around £50,000 extra income is expected to be generated from the Centre for Independent Living, in Burbank Street, and Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Brierton.

One-off council reserves of £950,000 will be set aside to pay for a potential 2% increase to low paid council workers which could come in next April followed by another 2% rise the year after.

Coun Akers-Belcher said it would need to find an extra £2.15m in its budgets and he has joined over 90 council leaders in writing to the Chancellor Philip Hammond to ask him to fully fund it.

The budget confirms the closure of the Inspirations Garden Centre, and also moving £600,000 set aside for the development of the Longscar Centre in Seaton Carew to an overall town regeneration budget.

The proposals were agreed by councillors by 25 votes to five.