Work starts to bridge £6.6M budget deficit

CIVIC chiefs will meet to start work on next year’s budget as they prepare to bridge a huge funding gap.

Hartlepool Borough Council is faced with a £6.6m budget deficit for the 2012-13 financial year and officers are working on proposals to bridge the gap.

It comes just weeks after councillors approved the budget for the current financial year, which saw 73 people made redundant and services either axed or scaled back.

The council will receive £14.2m less in Government grants this year, while the local authority has to slash a further £14m from its £90m budget over the next three years due to national spending cuts.

Senior councillors on the cabinet committee will meet on Friday to discuss bridging the budget deficit for next year. Finance chiefs say the projected deficit for 2012-13 is £6.6m. That figure is after the provisionally agreed rise in council tax for 2012-13 of 2.5 per cent, which was agreed by the full council in February.

A report to the meeting, chaired by Mayor Stuart Drummond, said the council is facing “significant deficits” over the next three years because of national spending cuts plus equal pay claims and redundancy costs.

Officers say it is impossible to bridge the gap without frontline services being affected.

The report said: “The deficits faced are significant.

“This is particularly the case when they are considered in the light of the changes and savings which have been made over the past few years and require a focused and agreed approach. It is not felt possible to achieve these through one route alone and it is clear that there are some extremely difficult decisions to be made over the next two years.

“As has been reported to cabinet previously, there are very few, if any, ‘easy’ decisions to be made.”

Councillors and officers will be looking at ways to bridge the budget deficit over the coming months including prioritising services, commissioning services, sharing services, increasing income and working more closely with other local authorities.

Last year £5.6m of cuts and £2.9m of Business Transformation Programme changes, which aims to streamline council services, plus other savings gave an overall total of £10m.

The council’s cabinet committee will meet at 8.30am, at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.