On Tuesday (January 25), East Sussex County Council’s cabinet discussed details of their budget proposals for the coming financial year, which will go to a full council vote next month.
Among the proposals are plans to both increase the authority’s share of council tax by 1.99 per cent and to put up its adult social care precept by 2.5 per cent. Put together these would translate to a total increase of £69 per year for a Band D household.
Opposition councillors felt more needed to be done to ensure council services are resilient and raised the issue of the ‘cost of living crisis’.
Lib Dem Alan Shuttleworth said: “It is not enough to have aspirations in a report, and I quote, ‘we will identify external funding streams to sustain family support and youth work.’ The council has to demonstrate that priority in the budget it puts forward.
“You might say the government are coming forward with various schemes, in my view one-off schemes, such as the household support fund, only scratch the surface of the problem and will certainly not begin to address the huge problems that so many will face with rocketing energy bills.
“Whilst the government at the moment is paralysed and looking the other way, it is failing to address these challenges and the plight of so many people is getting worse.”
He added: “East Sussex needs to ensure that, as far as we are able, we do redirect resources to help the most vulnerable get through the months ahead.”
Labour’s Godfrey Daniel, meanwhile, raised concerns about the impact of a council tax rise when combined with other rising costs.
He said: “I’m looking at this from the other angle; the people who have to pay the council tax. It is a huge increase in the council tax for the people we represent.
“They are going to be faced with a massive increase of 4.49 per cent at the same time as we have got the fuel bills going to go up with the new energy cap, the price of food which we know is going up National Insurance contributions being increased by the government.
“In terms of resources, I think we need to worry more about our people. Can they pay this kind of money to make the system work?
“I’m not saying that we need a smaller council tax or whatever, because at the end of the day we do have to protect the main services that people want.
“I don’t believe that the government [funding settlement] is slightly more generous to East Sussex. I think it is pretty bad at most authorities around the country. Obviously they want to spend more money on birthday cakes than people’s existence.”
These arguments around the national picture saw criticism from the Conservative benches, however.
Bob Standley, lead member for education and inclusion, said: “I feel [I would be] sad to be a Lib Dem really. Everything just seems to be so gloomy.
“Maybe I am reading the wrong document. This is a very good budget. We have no further cuts and some of those cuts have been painful [in the past]. Not only do we not have the cuts but we are actually putting money on one side for the future.”
He added: “Yes, we do want longer term funding. Yes, we keep lobbying government. But I hope when it comes to budget day the Lib Dems will see this is a good budget and support what we have put together.”
Earlier in the meeting, Nick Bennett, Conservative lead member for resources and climate change, said the council tax rises were intended to ensure the council was well-prepared in the face of significant uncertainty in the years ahead.
He said: “The overall scene is one of a sustainable and balanced budget going into 2022/23, but with significant uncertainty from 23/24 around funding reform, inflation [and] service development, alongside significant legislative reform.
“The proposal in the papers is to maximise the council tax and the adult social care precept in order to prepare for future reforms and contribute towards the forecast pressures in the medium term financial plan.
“There has been no requirement to seek any new savings over those previously identified and reported.
“In fact I am very pleased to support the recommendation to remove previously planned savings in early help. We know the pandemic has created additional challenges and this will allow us to continue our targeted support for families who are vulnerable for the very many different reasons we are aware of.”
While no new savings have been identified in the budget, savings agreed in previous years but to fall in 2022/23 amount to £1.362m. The bulk of this will come from increased on-street parking charges, expected to bring in £1m of additional income.
The library service will see its budget cut by £182,000, which the council says will come as a result of cost efficiency measures, relocating back office functions, as well as new IT contracts.
As well as this, the council also plans to put aside almost £5m (from the government’s one-off services grant) for future investment projects.
The budget proposals will be put to the vote on Tuesday February 8.