'It's not nice reading' - Hartlepool facing up to £7million deficit after more funding cuts

Council bosses have predicted they must deal with ‘the most uncertain position they have faced’ financially following cuts in government funding.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 23 July, 2019, 16:45
Hartlepool Civic Centre

It came as Hartlepool Borough Council Finance and Policy Committee discussed its financial strategy from 2020/21 to 2022/23.

Council bosses estimated there is likely to be a deficit for 2020/21 and 2021/22 of between £5.699million and £7.473million, depending on potential further government grants cuts.

Chris Little, council director of finance and policy, said government funding cuts are putting an increasing pressure on the council, adding several funding decisions are being delayed due to Brexit.

Councillors noted the funding ‘doesn’t make nice reading’ but praised the work of officers under difficult circumstances.

Mr Little said: “In terms of looking ahead it’s probably the most uncertain position local government has ever faced.

“The budget position is very much driven by external factors outside of the council’s control.

“We’ve had nine years of austerity taking us to 2019/20 and that’s reduced our government funding by 45%.

“Areas like Hartlepool have suffered some of the biggest cuts proportionality.

“Because we’ve got a low council tax base our ability to offset those government grant cuts is not the same as more affluent areas.

“All of the government’s national figures continue to assume councils will increase council tax to fund local services.”

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He also added local authorities are waiting on the outcome of the fair funding review, government spending review, the adult social care green paper, care funding updates, and more.

‘It doesn’t make nice reading’

Mr Little said: “To have one of those changes at local government in a year would be a challenge, the fact we’ve got so many at one time is unprecedented.

“There is an increasing probability all of those changes planned for 20/21 may well be delayed, the reason for that is the ongoing national issues around Brexit and the fact that is taking up all the parliamentary time.”

To balance the 2019/20 budget the council was forced to use £3.745million of its reserves, with officers acknowledging this would not provide a permanent solution.

Officers added there is a range of schemes ongoing to try and address funding gaps, with updates coming later this year.

Councillors praised the effort which was being put in to attempt to tackle the ‘demanding’ financial situation.

Council leader Coun Shane Moore said: “I know it doesn’t make nice reading, but it’s the reality we are faced with. So I’m pleased so far everyone is working together to try and resolve the issues we are facing.”

Coun Jim Lindridge said: “It’s a very demanding budget. I think we’re punching above our weight and sometimes we’ve got to pat ourselves on the back with the work we’re doing considering the reductions in budgets and allowances we’re getting from the government.”