Hartlepool councillors agree to using reserves to help tackle £6million deficit amid '˜uncertain' future

Councillors hit out over central government funding and said councils face an '˜uncertain' future after it was forced to look to its reserves to tackle a £6million deficit.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 17 December, 2018, 15:26
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s finance and policy committee previously reported it must find funding to tackle a £5.987million deficit for 2019/20.

Councillors on the committee agreed with the officer’s decision to use £3.745million of council reserves to balance the budget next year.

The amount was reduced from £3.847million after the borough received a net gain of £102,000 from the local government financial settlement.

There is also set to be a 3.9% increase in council tax for 2019/2020, which includes the 1% social care precept, which was indicatively approved in February 2018 and is expected to be referred to full council to be rubber stamped.

Council bosses attributed the deficit to cuts in Hartlepool’s core government funding, which by 2019/20 will be 45% less than in 2013/14 – a reduction of £20.9m.

Conservative Coun Mike Young said: “I think it paints a fairly dire picture of where we are at, the Government is putting the council under a massive strain.

“Nobody wants to raise council tax, adding that burden to people, but we are in that position we have to.”

Coun Stephen Thomas, chair of adult and community based services, said the council would not be able to continue to rely on grants.

He said: “One of the words which stood out to me was uncertainty.

“While we are in this current situation it can only be uncertainty for the future of our services.

“It’s a very, very difficult situation we find ourselves in and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Coun Brenda Harrison said: “I’m starting to sound like a broken record but I think as has been pointed out we are suffering at the hands of a government who really do not care.

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“They do not have the foresight to help people and the likes of Hartlepool are in a really bad position.

“It’s a no brainer as to how we go forward as there’s nothing else we can basically do.

“If there was another solution that would be great however I think we need to make sure the people of Hartlepool understand exactly who is behind the problem and who is responsible for this.”

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said backing the funding plan was a ‘really difficult decision for people to make’

He said: “The Government has made a very poor decision to shift the pressures from central government onto the council tax payer.”

Council bosses have said budget savings in recent months made by individual committees have achieved a further £1.040million savings.

The remaining deficit will be reduced using a further £1.1million of funding made available to adult and children’s services as part of the recently announced Chancellor’s Budget.

Council Finance boss Chris Little said: “The cuts have had a disproportionate impact on areas such as the North East

“We have balanced the budget now for the last eight years and through that we have had to make lots of difficult decisions.

“2019/20 has been the most challenging budget so far and unfortunately I think I’ll be saying that next year, it’s not going to get any easier.”

The committee voted to refered the budget plans to the full council meeting on Thursday to be rubber stamped by councillors.

Nic Marko , Local Democracy Reporting Service