Hastings Borough Council Leader’s report (July 2016)
Fairs and Festivals
Over the weekend of 25th – 26th June, the Mid-Summer Fish Festival took place on the Stade Open Space, with music, cookery displays, stalls from local craft and produce traders, and of course fish. It was extremely popular this year, and has become an established part of the local calendar, with more tourists visiting than in previous years.
Last weekend saw two major events in town: Blacksmiths on the Beach and the St Leonards Festival. Blacksmiths on the Beach is part of the ROOT 1066 festival, and was part-funded by the council (with the help of a £100,000 Arts Council grant for the whole festival) and part crowd funded. The aim is to produce a steel beach sculpture of the prow of a Norman longship – Blacksmiths on the Beach actually took place on the Stade Open Space, with blacksmiths from all over the country making parts for the sculpture. There were opportunities for children to get involved, too. Over 6,000 people attended the event, and reactions to it were very positive. It was an unusual idea, and we might follow it up in future with other visually interesting creative arts (glass blowing for example).
St Leonards Festival is an independently organised festival, part funded by the council. It took place this year at several locations, but mostly in Warrior Square, with food stalls, music and other performances, and the street market in King’s Road. It was well attended again, especially on Saturday morning (although Sunday was a bit of a wash out).
There will be many more festivals and events in Hastings through the summer, of course – established ones such as Hastings Carnival, the Seafood and Wine Festival, and Stade Saturdays, as well as all the events and performances put on as part of the ROOT 1066 festival – find out more about that here.
The vote to leave the EU has created a lot of uncertainty around future funding for the council and other organisations in Hastings. For the council, we do at least know that the £1m or so for the Fisheries Local Action Group, to support projects to help the local fishery, is secure. However, future FLAG funding will obviously now cease. There is no indication that the government will change quota allocations for the under ten metre fleet, so there’s no reason to assume that being out of the EU will give them any more quota. Quota allocations within the UK were always the responsibility of the UK government, not the EU.
All the other EU bids we’d submitted, or were in the process of submitting, are now in doubt – most are certain not to proceed. The total value of these bids was a little over £11m – we wouldn’t have got all of them, but we have a very good record of successful bids, and most of these were already in the later stages of approval, so we would have been in line for most of it. The projects funded vary from improving housing energy efficiency and reducing local people’s fuel bills, training and skills initiatives for young people in the most deprived areas of town, grants for local street markets, and grants for tourism initiatives. Since Brexit, over £4m of this has been rejected – much more than we expected. While there are opportunities to resubmit bids, these bids are submitted in partnership with other EU partners, and it’s unlikely they’ll want UK partners when they resubmit. The remaining £7m is still not secure – it just hasn’t been rejected yet.
We will, of course, be pursuing the government to make sure this funding is made by them, but so far the UK government has shown little interest in giving extra funding to more deprived areas. EU funds were targeted specifically on tackling deprivation, so Hastings benefited from this. Without this money, and with the economic downturn and negative effects on EU tourism to the town (see next section), the economic regeneration of Hastings will be adversely affected.
There have already been reports of incidents in our town where foreign tourists and language students have been verbally attacked and told to leave the country because we voted Brexit. A German TV station reported on one such incident, which led to a wave of hotel booking cancellations from German visitors. If the UK, and Hastings in particular, gets a reputation as somewhere where EU visitors are no longer welcome, the local economy will suffer badly – tourism and language schools are still by far the biggest contributor to the local economy. EU nationals and other immigrant communities already living here, and contributing to the local economy, are also fearful, in the light of reported attacks.
We have met the new Hastings Police Commander (Chief Inspector Rosie Ross) to discuss this, and she has assured us that any reported verbal attacks will be treated as hate crimes, and dealt with as the serious crime that they are.
But it’s not just up to the police – it’s up to all of us to report, and if possible challenge, all incidents of hate crime wherever it takes place. Hate crime does not, of course, encompass only race hate, it covers other forms of irrational hatred because of sexuality, gender, religion, or other differences. But the Brexit vote has clearly triggered additional racist and xenophobic incidents, which are bad for the local economy, and are not the way we would want visitors to our town, and residents here, to be treated. For years, Hastings has had a reputation as a welcoming and tolerant town, where anyone can visit or set up home, and not feel threatened. It is imperative that we keep it that way.
There have been some interesting developments here. Following threat of judicial review of University of Brighton’s decision to close the Hastings campus, on the grounds that the decision wasn’t properly taken, the university has backed down and effectively quashed the decision. Instead, they’ll now be embarking on a consultation on the future of the campus until October, with the Board of Governors making a final decision in November.
The independent consultancy study into the university, commissioned jointly by Hastings Council, Rother Council, and East Sussex County Council, will now inform the process, and will be assembling the case to keep the campus here, as well as a plan B for a future University of Hastings if the decision to close the campus still gets approval. We’ll be working with other organisations in the business, statutory and voluntary sectors to assemble the case against closure.
It’s highly likely that the report that goes before the governors in November will still recommend closure, but it’s the governors who will decide, and they will have a lot more information in front of them by then than they had earlier in the year to help them make that decision.
The council’s cabinet meeting this month approved a report outlining the steps the council is going to take to generate additional income. With a £3.5m gap in the council’s net budget (around 20% of the total net budget), and no clear way of covering that without major cuts to services, income generation has to be a priority, and is something many councils are now looking at. The report outlined four main areas that we intend to pursue. These are:
- Housing: the council will establish an ‘arm’s length’ housing development company, to build housing initially on council-owned sites, but with the potential of acquiring sites elsewhere in Hastings, and even outside Hastings, later;
- Property Investment: the council already has a large property investment portfolio, mostly in industrial and other commercial units in the borough, which it will extend, looking at the possibility of acquiring properties outside Hastings too;
- Income from the seafront: the council is already investing in new kiosks on the seafront, and will develop more commercial opportunities, as well as additional chalets and beach huts;
- Energy generation: the opportunities for generating electricity, primarily from photovoltaic (solar) panels on council buildings and land (the old rubbish tip at Pebsham, for example) are significant, and could raise considerable income;
- Parks and gardens: there are some opportunities for raising money from the private hire of parks and gardens, although these will probably be quite limited;
- Bringing services back in house: services that are currently contracted out could be brought back in house and marketed commercially, as the contracts come up for renewal – the building cleaning contract is being looked at as a possible first step here.
For some of these commercial trading activities, the council would have to behave in the same way as a private contractor, setting up council-owned companies to carry out commercial operations. But we’ll need to move quickly on this now, as the potentially biggest earning projects (housing development and energy generation) would take some time before they generate a profit. You can find the detailed report here.
New policing arrangements have been introduced from the 1st July, where police officers will respond to incidents based on ‘threat, harm and risk’. This has become necessary because of big government cuts to policing budgets, and consequent cuts in front line policing. There will, in effect, no longer be routine patrols by PCSOs or PCs anywhere. Instead, all officers will receive a task list at the start of their shift, directing them to particular incidents to investigate or known problem areas. In practice, this means PCSOs will be most visible in the town centres, as this is where most incidents are reported. Chief Inspector Rosie Ross, the new Hastings Commander, has said that she’s willing to work with the council to tackle problem areas, including those associated with street drinking and other anti-social behaviour. The council will look at how our warden service can work with the PCSOs too, particularly with the introduction of the new Public Space Protection Orders later in the year.
While the new arrangements are not ideal, and will mean foot patrols of PCSOs outside of town centres will cease, the council will be working closely with the police to get the best we can out of the new arrangements.
For those of you who may have wondered what the construction taking place on the seafront near the pier is, this is the new kiosk, decked area and palm trees being installed. It’s part of the comprehensive programme of seafront improvements, which will also include a circular kiosk further along the promenade, by the weather station. The one currently being constructed will look something like the picture when it’s finished, but without the ‘kiosk’ sign.
The council is about to launch its new website (should be live by the time you receive this). As well as being completely redesigned to look much clearer and more modern, the content has been revised too, removing a lot of old and irrelevant material. But there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that’s changed too, with new interactive software that will allow a much broader range of online transactions, reporting and online payments.
As it’s all new, and a very big project, there will inevitably be a few glitches – if you spot anything, do please report it.
I also write a fortnightly column for the Hastings Observer, on a variety of topics. You can see all these columns that I’ve written on the Hastings Council website.