Council battle to balance the books

Hastings Borough Council has seen its revenue support grant from central government slashed from £9m in 2010 to just £1.5m for the coming year.

That’s just one of the startling facts thrown up in council leader Peter Chowney’s most recent report on council business. Mr Chowney published his report last week and it makes fascinating reading.

He makes no bones about the fact that in the face of such cuts the council needs to both make savings and increase revenue. Savings he says will come from the council running its own services more efficiently. One example he gives is the transfer of many services online which will save the council £55,000 in paper and printing costs over the coming year.

There are three main strands to the council’s plan for income generation these include commercial property purchase which Mr Chowney says is the easiest way to generate income quickly. His report says the council recently bought the Sedlescombe Road Retail Park that includes Dunelm and Pets at Home and the Bexhill Road Retail Park that includes TK Maxx. Together with other purchases these will generate an income of over £600,000 a year with more purchases in the pipeline.

42802389-46d2-497b-8887-25d891f8b103Sedlescombe Road Retail Park is now owned by Hastings Borough Council.

The council-owned housing company is now buying properties in Hastings, to make them available for rent, he says. This he explains will boost the supply of good quality, well-managed rented housing and bring in an income too.

But energy generation is a potential big earner for the council but is a much longer term project, Mr Chowney says in his report: “Hastings Council is intending to establish a local supply network for electricity generated from local sustainable sources which would both earn the council income and make cheap electricity available for local people and businesses. To begin this process, the council will this year instal solar panels on properties it owns, bringing in around £280,000 in income.”

He cautions that these initiatives won’t cover the massive cuts in government grant, and further service reductions will be needed. However, there will be no need for frontline service cuts in the coming financial year. He explains that efficiency savings combined with higher than expected rental income from the commercial properties the council has bought means there is no need to make any frontline service cuts.

11700771_10153483172153832_809724716291058801_o.jpgPeter Chowney – leader of Hastings Borough Council.

“There will be no staff redundancies and car park charges will be frozen. We will however need to increase the Council Tax by the maximum allowed without a local referendum (2.99per cent). This will mean the Hastings Council portion of the Council Tax will increase for a band D property by £7.48 a year, to £257.81. East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, and East Sussex Fire and Rescue service will also be increasing their element of the Council Tax, but Hastings Council has no influence over this,” he says.

Mr Chowney’s report in an extensive seven-page document and among other interesting pieces of information included in it is that a successful bid for money from the European Union means up to £7m becoming available for projects in the most deprived small neighbourhoods in Ore, Tressell, Hollington, Gensing, Wishing Tree, Baird, Castle, Central St Leonards and Old Hastings.

The report also looks at issues of homelessness and rough sleeping. Mr Chowney highlights that although it is difficult to establish exact figures it is believed that whereas five years ago there were two people sleeping rough in Hastings, the figure is now believed to be around 40. Hastings Borough Council spent £960,000 dealing with homelessness last year and this is predicted to rise to over £1m in the coming year.

The seven page report, published last week is a fascinating read and to see it in full go to



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