Council chiefs warn ‘people should be left under no illusion’ on funding pressures Hartlepool is facing

Chief Executive of Hartlepool Borough Council Gill Alexander and Council Leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher
Chief Executive of Hartlepool Borough Council Gill Alexander and Council Leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher

Hartlepool’s civic leaders say people should be ‘under no illusion’ about the scale of financial pressures facing the council.

Hartlepool Borough Council chiefs say their budget for 2020-21 will be critical and have warned of potential cuts to services unless they get a better funding deal from central government.

Hartlepool Civic Centre

Hartlepool Civic Centre

Gill Alexander, chief executive of the council, says Hartlepool has been one of the places hardest hit in the country by nine years of government austerity.

She said: “Local government nationally has probably never faced pressures in its history as great as it is facing now.”

Ms Alexander said the council aims to work with other local authorities and politicians in the North East to put pressure on the Government.

She said: “We need to look externally and start acting as a voice for the region and encouraging and hoping that our politicians can work collaboratively to act as a strong voice across the region and Hartlepool to say we need a better deal from government than the deal we’ve had in terms of funding.

“There’s only so much we can do without ultimately having to make some really hard choices about the services we provide.”

Last month, the council agreed to use £3.745 million of its reserves and put council tax up by 3.9% to balance the budget with minimal cuts for 2019-20.

Ms Alexander said: “This year we are buying time to allow that voice to be heard loudly, but also give us time to think very carefully about where if we have to we have to make cuts, because we don’t want to make decisions quickly which once you have made you can’t unpick.

“People should be left under no illusion at some point people have to start recognise there’s only so much that the North East can sustain in terms the level of unfair impact we’ve had on the funding settlement as a result of the austerity programme which has been in operation for the last nine years.”

Council leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said the council is now receiving more than £20m less from the Government since 2008-09.

He said: “Each and every year we say this is the most difficult budget. We are plugging the gap this year with our reserves.

“But at the end of the day we are going to have to take potentially £6m-7m out of the budget which is either going to be cuts to services or we buy time in order to have a look at whether or not we can invest in other services which would give us more income.

“It’s phenomenal what the Government has taken off Hartlepool, the cuts are just savage, yet we are more efficient as a council.”

Coun Akers-Belcher said the council had shed more than 500 staff which is saving it £12m a year.

And he said accelerating Hartlepool’s housing growth is critical to generate extra income for the council and ease pressure on where cuts could fall.

Options for future potential savings will be considered by the council’s corporate managers and councillors in the coming months.