Paul Barnett’s first Leader’s Column

This is the text of Paul Barnett’s first Leader’s Column which featured in the Hastings Observer.

I WAS ELECTED Leader of Hastings Borough Council last night: what an honour.

It’s also a huge challenge given all the problems and challenges Hastings is grappling with at the moment.

But I have tremendous energy and commitment, and a vision for our great town, so am up for giving this a good go.

I want to do things differently, as the days when a local authority could decide what was needed and then provide that are long gone. Delivering for all the people of Hastings needs partnership working, with other public bodies, with the voluntary sector, with the private sector and with residents. And I have always believed you get better results anyway from partnerships, as it brings us all together to share both ideas and ways of making them happen.

There is still funding out there too, even if Government have stripped us of most of our former annual revenue. We will get more funding if we are seen to be open, transparent and collaborative. So I have started that already, with a twice daily blog on Facebook, so everyone can see what a Council leader actually does each day.

Not much space here to elaborate on my vision, but here are four promises to be getting on with:

We can only be a truly great town if all residents feel equally safe, supported and involved. So I will start by meeting all those amazing voluntary organisations tackling poverty and championing different communities, including LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, Black and Asian groups, older people and women.

We currently have the worst health inequalities in the south of England. Many residents are just giving up trying to see their GP at the moment, often because of very off-putting telephone and digital systems. I will ask every GP in Hastings to have a close look at this.

The Council must be more visible, so I will hold my meetings away from council buildings, including continuing the weekly open surgeries at Goat Ledge that I started last year. 

And finally, this council will tackle the cost of living crisis head on. We will lobby Government, who continue to cut support for the poorest even while bills are rocketing, and our MP, continue the 100% council tax rebate system now copied by many others, and introduce a new Emergency Fund for those in desperate need. This will have some national funding, but I want to invite all those who can afford not to use their Government £150 (for help with fuel bills) to donate this to the Emergency Fund. That way we can start as I mean to go on, looking after each other in sensible and practical ways.

Next time, more about Housing, our Climate Emergency, the role of Culture (arts, sports and play) and the state of our roads.

Please send me your ideas too,