A new leader was elected when Hastings Borough Councillors met on Wednesday night – rarely has the challenge in leading the council been so great.
Councillor Kim Forward takes on the mantle of Leader from Peter Chowney and her fellow Gensing ward councillor Colin Fitzgerald takes on the responsibilities of Deputy Leader of the council.
With the town already suffering from the uncertainty of the Coronavirus outbreak, Ms Forward told members: “Our message to the people of Hastings is that we are standing with you and will do all we can to support you at this most difficult of times. We are a strong community and I know we will all work together at this time.”
The council’s focus would be firmly on the Covid19 pandemic… “on how we can continue to deliver our services and how we can support those who are most affected by the situation in our community,” she said.
“The impact on our town, our residents and our businesses is already being felt and we must work strategically with our partners to ensure that we can offer support and guidance,” Ms Forward told the meeting.
And her message to the government was about the urgency required in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and those in deprived communities, both within Hastings and across the country.
She paid tribute to Peter Chowney, leader since 2015 and twice Labour’s parliamentary candidate. And in what is appropriately Women’s History Month, Ms Forward – the first female Labour leader of Hastings Council and first woman to lead the council since Liberal Democrat Pam Brown 20 years ago – said: “We have a long way to go to ensure equal representation, but I am pleased to be making a little bit of history. I am glad that I can be a role model for our girls and women.”
Mr Fitzgerald was approved as Deputy, after being selected by the Labour group of councillors. He currently also has responsibility for the Environment, Community Safety and Equalities.
Completing a new Top Team at HBC is Jane Hartnell – the meeting approved her new role as Managing Director.
Jane shared joint leadership with Simon Hubbard for many years before taking over sole charge as part of a new slimmed-down council.
Mr Chowney, in his final speech as leader, said Ms Hartnell was one of the few people he knew in local government who had worked their way to the top in one local authority; when he had first met her 20 years ago she was in a relatively junior role. “Jane is a credit to the town and a credit to this council,” he added.
The new Managing Director is already organising her team to face the challenge of the Covid-19 virus. She said the council would be helping to coordinate the efforts of voluntary groups, as well a prioritising urgent assistance for the most vulnerable and the homeless.
There would be virtual meetings, wherever possible, and local museums and galleries would be moving ‘online’.
The council has set up a special section of its website to inform residents of what help was available and to get public feedback – use the link below.
During the crisis, councillors agreed HBC would simply focus on its basic, statutory services, in order not to deflect from work on the crisis. Decisions, where necessary, would be taken by a group of four councillors, to include the leader of the council and a member of the opposition Conservative group.