Council leader '˜won't be complicit' in housing support cuts

A West Sussex council leader has withdrawn from a board comprised of his peers saying he would not be complicit in cuts to housing support services.

Peter Lamb
Peter Lamb

The Tory-led West Sussex County Council is considering ending housing support contracts to a number of different organisations from April 2019 as it looks to plug a massive budget gap.

Crawley Open House is one of the charities due to be hit and more than 8,500 people have signed a petition calling for the cuts to be halted.

Labour’s Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley Borough Council, has withdrawn from the board of West Sussex council leaders in protest and explained how charities have made it clear that without this grant funding their services will close.

Mr Lamb said: “Everyone can see district council budgets are too small to plug the gap, the county council just doesn’t care.”

He added: “In circumstances like these cooperation becomes complicity, I’m going to keep fighting for my residents rather than propping up a council which clearly doesn’t care about us.”

Earlier this week the leader of the county council, along with leaders of councils in Arun, Adur, Chichester, Horsham, Mid Sussex and Worthing released a joint statement.

They said: “All the Conservative council leaders from across West Sussex met earlier this week to discuss the budget situation faced by West Sussex County Council due to lack of central Government funding.

“West Sussex County Council explained the financial challenges of reduced government funding and the increased demands for the statutory services of children’s and adult social care.

“West Sussex County Council has already saved £145m over the last 8 years but now faces a funding gap of £146m over the next four years.

“The leaders agreed how they could work together to try to mitigate the potential impacts of the cuts on vulnerable groups.

“It was acknowledged that in the next four year period there is insufficient funding and it was agreed to write collectively to the Government highlighting the difficult decisions that will need to be taken if social care services are not adequately funded.

“They expressed regret that Crawley Borough Council would not participate in this joint work for local communities.”

Mr Lamb then submitted a formal complaint, arguing that local authority communications are prohibited from actively seeking to sway support to or from a political party.

In response a county council spokesman said: “We were made aware that a phrase in a joint statement from West Sussex County Council and some of our district and borough councils, excluding Crawley Borough Council could have been interpreted as political. We reissued the statement and are happy to clarify this.”

Meanwhile Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, has written to Mr Lamb expressing concern at his decision to withdraw from the leaders’ board.

He said: “While I quite appreciate that you are, as am I, concerned at the county council’s proposals to reduce homeless support budgets, I believe it is best to engage constructively and collegially to find solutions, even when there may be policy differences.

“This is particularly the case as Crawley Borough Council is, of course, the local housing authority.

“To remove Crawley from the joint effort to better serve people seems like personal petulance and political narrow-mindedness - it is certainly not active representation.

“On behalf of local residents I would be grateful if you would reconsider, and work together so we can ensure the most vulnerable in society are protected.”

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