No cuts to services but maximum council tax rise as West Sussex County Council balances its budget

West Sussex County Council will no longer have to dip into its reserves to balance its budget for 2024/25.
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The news was shared during a meeting of the full council on Friday (February 16).

In January, it was feared that £3.6m would have to be taken from reserves – but the announcement that West Sussex would receive £6.931m as its final Local Government Finance Settlement changed things.

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But that money would never be enough to meet all the council’s needs.

Jeremy Hunt, West Sussex cabinet member for financeJeremy Hunt, West Sussex cabinet member for finance
Jeremy Hunt, West Sussex cabinet member for finance

As such, £15.7m of ‘efficiency savings’ were approved, as was a council tax increase by the maximum allowed, 4.99 per cent.

The change will see the average Band D bill rise by £81.54 to £1,714.95 for the year.

Despite the financial challenges, there will be no cuts to services and the council is in a far better position than many across the country.

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Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, said the council was in ‘a sound financial position’ despite the ‘ever-increasing pressures’ on front-line services.

Amendments to the budget were tabled by Kate O’Kelly (Lib Dem, Midhurst), Kirsty Lord (Lib Dem, Hassocks & Burgess Hill South) and Chris Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush & Ifield West) but all were voted down.

The new budget will see the council spend over £2billion on day-to-day services.

This will include £961m on schools and education, £507m on caring for adults and keeping people healthy, £204m on children’s social care and supporting young people, and £83m on maintaining roads and providing transport.

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Another £91m will be spent on protecting the environment, recycling, and waste disposal.

The £15.7m being removed from the budget includes £600k being taken from the reserve set aside for the removal of Ash trees and £3.2m of efficiency savings over the next two years in a range of contracts that are managed by adults social care.

Staffing costs in children’s social care will drop by £240k, and a reduction in the number of children being placed in care is expected to lead to savings of £900k.

The Dedicated Schools Grant – which is the main source of income for schools in the county – continues to be a big issue.

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The grant for 2024/25 is £850.3m. While this may seem like a lot, a deficit of £74m is forecast by March, increasing to £154m by March 2025.

Mr Hunt told the meeting the deficit could be as high as £260m by March 2026.

A report to the meeting said the deficit related to the high needs block and the high numbers of young people with Education Health and Social Care Plans.

Capital investments of £131.57m have been included in the budget, covering areas such as schools, highways, and the environment.

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The budget includes £27.8m to cover inflation and pay agreements, and £54.1m to cover the increase in demand for services as well as rising costs.

Mr Hunt said: “This has been an extremely challenging year in terms of balancing our budget. In July of last year, we reported a potential £45m budget gap for the coming year.

“The pressures we are facing have continued to increase with more and more vulnerable people needing our support, and inflation and the cost of services spiralling.

“However, I’m pleased to say that we have today presented and agreed a balanced budget for the year ahead, which ensures we make best use of our limited resources and protects essential frontline services.

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“Also, thanks to lobbying we carried out recently, central government has recognised the pressures we are facing and allocated us a small amount of additional funding.

“Whilst this additional funding is most welcome, it unfortunately does not go far enough to meet the needs of our residents.

“However, I am relieved to say it does mean we no longer have to draw on our limited budget management reserve in order to balance our budget.”