Clash over one-off Government funds at County Hall as budget cuts and council tax rise approved

David Tutt, leader of the Lib Dem Group at East Sussex County Council and Keith Glazier, leader of the county council
David Tutt, leader of the Lib Dem Group at East Sussex County Council and Keith Glazier, leader of the county council

East Sussex County Council is to cut more than £5.1m from its services after agreeing its budget for 2019/20.

On Tuesday (February 5), the Conservative-controlled East Sussex County Council agreed to raise council by 2.99 per cent and find £5.13m of savings, following a full council vote.

Details of where the cuts fall are to be decided in the coming year, but proposals include the scrapping of the meals-on-wheels subsidy and a review of the care packages received by many vulnerable residents.

Cllr Elkin said: “This needs saying loud and clear. In proposing this budget cabinet are very aware it requires some difficult decisions that will have an impact in our communities.

“We regret having to budget these proposals but they are necessary due to reducing funding and increasing costs.

“To our residents and communities, I say, we will continue to stand up for East Sussex to be a voice to represent you and your interests  and focus our attention on the services local people most need in the county.”

The Conservative proposals were adopted following a majority vote, with a Labour amendment – to reduce the cuts by £1.138m through reserves – defeated despite support from some independent members.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, declined to either put forward its own amendments or back either the Conservative or Labour budget proposals.

The group instead argued the council should not pass any budgets in a protest against the level of cuts from central government.

Liberal Democrat leader David Tutt said: “I honestly believe if we vote for this budget, it is a betrayal of our responsibility to the people who elected us to represent them.

“I think the time has come where we collectively need to stand up to government and say this is not doable anymore.  

“We have a legal duty to provide a balanced budget, I recognise that. But I also believe that if we stand united against Government and say it is not doable then they will have to listen.”

Cllr Tutt also described the Conservative proposals as ‘unsustainable’ due to the amount of one-off monies included within the proposals. He warned this would put pressure on future budgets.

However, council leader Keith Glazier argued the one-off money reduced the amount the council needed to cut this year and ‘showed the success’ of the Core Offer process in lobbying Government for more funding.

Cllr Glazier said: “The Government have no way of not knowing where we stand on future funding. I believe they have listened to what we have said and have, for the right reasons, given us the one-off funding.

“They have already said the Fairer Funding Review and Comprehensive Spending Review will be in place when we formulate next year’s budget. Why on earth would they want to pre-empt that today?

“Your wishes for certainty and sustainable funding now is misguided and, I think, [does not] recognise that the Government has given us £18m in one-off funding through capital and revenue for two years is a significant success.

“We could be here today looking at £17m of council cuts, I’ll make no bones about it.”

The majority of the additional one-off funding for 2019/20 – which comes to around £9.9m – is split into several ring-fenced grants for high-demand areas such as social care.

However, this figure also includes an estimated £1.6m of additional income, which the council expects to gain from taking part in the Government’s 75 per cent business rates pilot scheme.

Details of exactly where the £5.13m of savings will be found will have to be agreed over the coming year.

See below for a breakdown of where these cuts are proposed.

Communities, economy and transport – £2.34m

On paper, almost half of the savings proposed for 2019/20 are set to come from the council’s communities economy and transport budget.

The most noticeable change is likely to be an increase in parking charges around the county, which is expected to bring an additional £1m into council coffers.

Major changes are also proposed to the way the highways maintenance service is funded, with the cost of conducting highways investigations to move to the council’s capital budget.

While an accounting exercise, the move is intended to free up more resources for day-to-day services by saving around £889,000 from  the council’s revenue budget.

Proposals also includes £32,000 of cuts to the East Sussex archives and records service and a £31,000 reduction in funding given to conservation projects in the Ashdown Forest.

Meanwhile a £200,000 cut is proposed for the council’s concessionary travel scheme, reducing the amount spent on elderly and disabled people’s bus passes.

The proposals also include savings of £15,000 from the council’s environmental advice service and a £150,000 saving from an ongoing review of the county’s household waste service.

Children’s services – £1.049m

Elsewhere services to support schools are in the crosshairs, as the council seeks to cut £1.049m from its children’s service budget.

Almost all of the proposed children’s services cuts for are set to fall within the council’s Schools Learning and Effectiveness Service (SLES).

Through SLES the council monitors local authority schools within the county, offering support and advice where needed.

But it is proposed to cut back the service by more than £849,000, limiting the council’s support to schools which are found to be ‘failing’ in some way.

The proposed cuts would also severely reduce the council’s ability to monitor school performance around the county, meaning potential problems within schools are less likely to be caught.

If brought in, a council report warns, the changes could see a fall in the already below national average attainment of East Sussex pupils and a drop in the number of good and outstanding schools.

This comes alongside a proposal to scrap the council-funded clerking service, which is expected to save around £158,000.

If approved, this would leave individual schools responsible for recruiting, training and paying their own clerks – a specialised role intended to assist boards of  governors.

The council is also proposing a £42,000 cut to its home to school transport budget. The cut is expected to fall on colleges, meaning fewer FE students will get financial support for their travel.

Adult social care – £730,000

The council is proposing to remove its entire meals on wheels subsidy in 2019/20.

If approved, the cut would save the council around £483,000 but leave the vulnerable residents who receive the meals responsible for the full cost of the service.

The council is also proposing cuts of around £247,000 in its nursing and residential services, which it would hope to find by reviewing its current care packages. The council has warned that this process may see some residents have their care reduced or removed completely.

Business services – £1.003m

Finally the council is hoping to find savings in its Orbis partnership – a deal which sees the council share some of its back room functions with Brighton and Hove City Council and Surrey County Council.

East Sussex County Council is looking to save around £1.003m on the deal in 2019/20.