Resignations among Hastings Borough Council’s political leadership has increased the likelihood of the council facing bankruptcy, opposition councillors have said.
Since last Thursday (December 14), eight Hastings councillors have quit the Labour party to form a new independent group, styled as the Hastings Independents. They include council leader Paul Barnett and five other members of the authority’s cabinet.
In a statement announcing their resignation, the councillors said they felt the national party no longer provided “the policies, the support or the focus on local government” needed to address local issues.
A spokesperson for the national party disputed this, saying the councillors’ “performative gesture politics” had driven the authority to the “brink of bankruptcy”.
The resignations have also come in for criticism by the council’s Conservative and Green Party members, who say it has increased the likelihood of the authority issuing a Section 114 notice — effectively the local authority version of bankruptcy.
Conservative group leader Andy Patmore said: “The practical outcome of their actions could have dire consequences for Hastings Borough Council.
“For the council to avoid a S114 notice (bankruptcy), the chief financial officer must have confidence in the council and that a legal budget can be set. The very fact that a minority renegade Labour group has splintered off and cling on to power without any mandate from either the people or the council, can only lower that confidence.
“This is the same group of councillors, who, as Labour cabinet members, have been rebuked by the recent Grant Thornton audit report. The same group who have been responsible for borrowing tens of millions of pounds, having no understanding of the risks and how it would impact on the council’s financial sustainability.
“Their performance running the council has come under extreme scrutiny this year from external reviews. Both the Local Government Association, and now external auditors, Grant Thornton, have been highly critical of the way the council is being run. These are not politically driven reports but independent reviews.
“There are council elections in May. If these councillors truly believe in democracy they will step down and seek re-election. One thing is for sure, this Labour splinter group are not independent, they are driven by their own political ideology.”
Cllr Julia Hilton, leader of the council’s Green Party group, shared similar concerns.
She said: “Creating uncertainty now, just after passing a budget which requires eye watering savings to keep the council afloat, is highly irresponsible and increases the danger of a 114 notice being issued. In addition a new cabinet would have only nine weeks of administration before the pre-election period starts — no time to get up to speed.
“There are now four different political groups plus various independents represented on the council and all those voices need to be heard in the important decisions that need to be made in the next two months, particularly on the budget and corporate plan.