I would like to begin this week's column by thanking all the students and staff of the Northern Lights Learning Trust for showing me around St Peters Primary in Elwick and Hart Primary last Friday. Both are award winning places of education and a credit to Head Teacher Mrs Hill and CEO, Mrs Heaton.
Like all schools, they are doing their best in the face of challenging issues around funding shortages which is beginning to have a detrimental impact on things like staffing, Special Educational Needs provision and even the replacement of basic equipment like IT and books. The teachers and support workers in all our schools are doing a fantastic job but they simply are not getting the resources they need.
This week brought news that the huge national care home provider, Four Seasons, is going into administration. On the day of the local elections it’s a stark reminder of not only the fragility of the private care sector but of the importance of the role of local councils as well. Westview Lodge is a wonderful facility run by the company and I hope it continues on providing a safe and comfortable environment for residents, however it is ultimately the Council who will have to pick up the pieces if that doesn’t happen and make sure our elderly citizens are properly looked after, re-homed and supported. It’s happened in the recent past with other care home closures and invariably puts a strain on already overstretched council resources.
As I said in a speech in the Commons last week, since 2010 Local Authority funding in England and Wales has been cut by
£16 billion, which has clearly had a knock-on effect on services that my constituents expect and rely upon. In 2019/ 2020 Hartlepool Council faces 40% cuts across all Departments and has for the first time been forced to use its reserves in order to balance the books. It is not just services for the elderly and young people that are affected; it’s Highways, Trading Standards, Libraries and other services as well. While the budget can be balanced once or twice with reserves, once they're gone, they're gone and we won't have emergency funds. It's not the solution that many people think it is. It really does feel like councils are suffering death by a thousand cuts.
The House of Lords has recently concluded that coastal towns like ours have been neglected for far too long, with funding from Government having been directed towards big towns and cities at their expense, yet they also say that with the right level of investment they can be rejuvenated and once again become prosperous.
Today is polling day in the local elections and each and every one of your votes count. We need strong, community minded and forward thinking Councillors to defend local services and help me take the fight for fairer funding to the Government. The right to vote is an important part of our democracy and a hard fought for right of every citizen aged 18 and over. I urge you to exercise that right today and help shape the future direction of your Council.