Charges at rubbish tips could be introduced in East Sussex as the county council looks to make millions of pounds of savings.
The authority needs to close a £17m budget gap in 2018/19, down from the original estimate of £22m, and a projected £30m over the next two financial years.
Possible proposed areas of savings include reducing the number of Household Waste Recycling Sites (HWRSs) and introducing charges for certain types of waste, cutting back on preventative adult social care services, reducing support for performance and improvement in schools, and scaling back the county’s network of libraries.
Meanwhile the Tory-led East Sussex County Council could increase its share of council tax by as much as 5.99 per cent, the equivalent of another £78 a year for a Band D property.
This includes the three per cent adult social care levy element.
Budget proposals for 2018/19 are set to be discussed by the Cabinet next Tuesday (January 23), while a final decision would be made by all councillors in February.
The authority is struggling with reductions in the grant it receives from central Government, and rising demand for services such as adult social care.
David Elkin, deputy leader of the council and lead member for resources, said: “Even with the money a council tax increase would generate, and the additional efficiency savings we have been able to identify, we have some very tough choices to make to deliver a balanced budget.”
Currently there are 12 HWRSs in East Sussex at Eastbourne, Hastings, Lewes, Newhaven, Seaford, Hailsham, Forest Row, Crowborough, Wadhurst, Maresfield, Heathfield, and Mountfield.
According to cabinet papers the two at Wadhurst and Forest Row could possibly be closed, while the use of the sites by registered charities could also be reviewed.
Cllr Elkin said: “We are investigating what we need and are required to provide. So that’s not nice things, saying: ‘Ok we are going to have as many recycling sites as we want unfortunately’.
“We are going to look at exactly what we need to provide statutory and in principle provide that.
“It will be a systematic piece of work and it will not be knee jerk. It will be a proper structured piece of work. Some of that work will have been done obviously.”
He described how the review would look at providing value for money, usage, and the geographical spread of sites.
Asked if it would look at partial closures during the week, he said they would ‘look at everything’.
The council is also exploring introducing charges for some types of non-household waste, such as soil, hard core, plasterboard, and tyres.
Cllr Elkin explained: “We are looking at all the options, we are trying to get a better understanding of what you can charge for and what you can’t.”
However the council has ‘not made its mind up’ on charges.
He added: “Do we want to charge more? Of course we do not want to charge more. It’s just crazy, the challenge is that big.”
Other areas of savings included cuts to the library service, where a consultation on potentially closing seven libraries was held last year, with the results due in March.
Meanwhile the council will also be looking at scaling back its preventative work in adult social care and early help support.
Intermediate care services at Milton Grange and Firwood House, both in Eastbourne, are set to be reviewed, while funding for floating housing support services could be cut.
On support to help schools improve Cllr Elkin described the current situation where local authorities were having fewer powers in education the ‘worst sort of muddle’.
Although the council still has a £371m revenue budget and nearly £100m of capital investment planned for next year, it has had to find £130m of budget savings since 2010.
Cllr Elkin said: “It becomes more and more difficult and we are now in a situation as a council where we are only delivering core services and everything we do matches our four priorities.”
These are driving economic growth, keeping vulnerable people safe, helping people help themselves, and making best use of resources.
Addressing the proposed council tax increase, Cllr Elkin said: “It’s an opportunity, and we have not made that decision yet, and it’s not something we would do through choice, but if we want to stick by our four priorities, such as protecting the vulnerable, the only way we are going to do that is with money to provide the services.
Councillors are still lobbying central Government for more resources, especially through the authority’s ‘successful’ cross-party Stand up for East Sussex campaign.
Cllr Elkin suggested ministers had ‘got the message’ but other issues such as Brexit were higher on their list of priorities before reforming local Government finances.
He said he understood as a country the UK was ‘living beyond its means’, but without urgent changes he suggested East Sussex County Council would ‘become a reactive council in the not too distant future’.
He added: “We are not there yet.”
What do you think? Email the newsdesk.