November's meeting with Cllr Paul Barnett

Hastings Borough Council’s leader, Cllr Paul Barnett, presents their Budget proposals Nov/Dec 2023 to Hastings Chamber of Commerce

Leader of Hastings Borough Council, Cllr Paul Barnett joined Hastings Chamber at our November meeting to present the proposed Corporate Plan & Budget, inviting members of the Chamber and local business community to hear the plans, as well as give their views on what this means for the town. Due to the current financial difficulties, this meeting was brought forward from the typical January meeting.

His presentation of the proposed budget was one of a few that Cllr Paul Barnett has been, presenting to the town, to get the widest view and feedback possible from the people of Hastings and the surrounding area.

“The public consultation is [Friday 1st December] formally, and we’ll be discussing on Monday’s cabinet meeting what response has been decided, and then the final proposals will go out to the council meeting in a couple of weeks’ time. So, before Christmas this year, for the first time, the Council will decide the national strategy budget for next year, and that puts us in a really much stronger position to be able to start to implement those changes much faster.”

Cllr Paul Barnett

The Council has a £4 million budget deficit next year with the financial circumstances due to reduced government funding and increased costs of the housing crisis. In order to meet the savings target, they have set out the following cut and proposals:

Staff costs

  • The staff budget is £14.6m out of net budget £18m
  • Staff costs have been reduced by 194 FTE: new ways of working (e.g. digital), charging to cover costs, getting others to fund its services, stopping doing things/increasing workloads
  • Staff savings proposals: restructure net savings & deletion of vacant posts, new service delivery model transformation programme

Transformation programme

  • Cannot salami-slice further – must deliver legally compliant and effective services
  • Need to change – cannot afford to do alone
  • Ambition: reduce costs and create more capacity/ resilience by sharing resources, systems and skills across HBC and with others
  • Many organisations now interested in sharing services
  • Larger teams can offer development and promotion – help with our recruitment and retention challenges

Sharing services project

  • Service delivery model transformation team funded by ‘invest to save’ (+ potential external funding)​
  • Focus on opportunities for sharing back-office and essential services​
  • Savings from management, administration, sharing and rationalising systems etc. or by providing for others​
  • Priorities depend on opportunities with potential partners​
  • Over project lifetime will review all services​
  • Target – £1m i.e. 15% by 2026/27​
  • Will be challenging and however well we capture opportunities – staff reductions will impact response times, capacity and quality of what offer​

Non-staff saving proposals

  • White Rock Theatre – savings and new sustainable arrangement
  • Re-procurement of contracts
  • Events core-funding reducing as organisers becoming self-sufficient
  • Asset sales
  • Seek alternative external funding sources e.g. ASB pilot
  • Youth council – seek alternative means of engaging youth voice at a strategic level
  • Cashless operations
  • Housing and TA costs reduction/avoidance

Income Generation

  1. Fees and charges: inflation & 3%, protecting those who cannot pay, report to Cabinet 4th December
  2. Treasury management
  3. New Homes bonus
  4. More commercial approach where possible

​Ending his presentation, Cllr Paul Barnett is encouraging Chamber members to come and discuss their businesses journeys with him.

After presentation of the proposed budget and plans to the members of the Chamber, Chamber Director Sean Dennis and Chairman Sam Carter presented questions to Cllr Paul Barnett, alongside questions from our members.

Questions from members on the proposed budget:

“Since you presented in January, has the budget changed? Has it got worse or got better?”

It has gotten worse because of the housing crisis. We are now spending £11m a year on homelessness which we get half back from the Government, but we still have to find the other half. We hope that we’re at the top of that curve and it’s beginning to come down.

“Can we learn any lessons from other Councils that have gone down this path?”

Yes, we can learn from both those that have got it right and wrong. One of the things we can learn is the investments made by backing the wrong people and now these Councils are unable to even pay interest rates which were almost 0% when they borrowed.

“Is the reason for the roads being bad in Hastings due to the funding being redirected to tackling homelessness?”

No, most of your council tax goes to East Sussex County Council who are responsible for roads as well as adult and child social care, which has an enormous strain on their resources. You will be pleased to hear the County Council have changed contractors for the roads and improvements will be made in the near future.

“Are there any empty properties in Hastings that can be put to good use to tackle the homelessness issue?”

There are far too many and that is some of the work the housing team are doing, looking at what accommodations we have. There are some ways we can work around purchasing empty properties, but they are quite risky.

“Do you meet with Sally-Ann Hart to solve these issues?”

I meet with Sally-Ann each month. This is something she was lobbying with the Government two years ago and had no luck but are now finally agreeing to make some change.

“In your presentation, there was mention of ‘cashless operations’, what do you mean by this?”

Carparking – at the moment, we are one of the few councils that are holding onto cash payments. There is a significant amount of people in the town that still pay for their parking via the coins in their pockets. The contract is up for renewal on our cash collection next year, if we don’t make the change now, we’ll be waiting several years to make it and the proposal is to make the change now and save £25,000 as a result of not having cash collections done on that scale. Moving to digital payments means we will need to find a way to continue supporting people who won’t be.

“Should the council be considering where they are spending some of the pots of money they get given the current crisis? For example, they were recently given £880,000 for improvements to a park – is that the best use of this?”

This was money from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) which was £1m and was from the Government to try and make up for the loss of European Funding for local authorities. This was to last 3 years and rather than spreading it out thinly across the whole of Hastings, it was to be invested into one area of the town to make a real difference. That area is Bromsgrove, one of the poorest areas of Hastings, and it’s being used to work with local residents and organisations to improve health, increase cultural life, better housing, and employment. Let’s Do Business Group have taken on this contract which you can read about here. Some of that money will also be going towards greenspaces.

“You spoke about joining forces with local businesses but how realistic is that? Talking from personal experiences, at our last meeting, you opened the floor to discussions and many businesses sent emails on follow ups yet none of us got any responses back.”

I’m disappointed that this has happened, and we should be responding. There is a capacity issue, but please do get in touch.

The draft corporate plan update and budget are available at

As always, thank you to all our members who attended our November meeting! To see our other upcoming events, visit our Events page.