'˜Devastating' £4million cuts to housing support services in West Sussex criticised

'˜Devastating' funding cuts of £4million to housing support services across West Sussex have been criticised by opposition members.

Housing support cuts protest outside County Hall in October
Housing support cuts protest outside County Hall in October

West Sussex County Council’s Tory cabinet has agreed to a range of cost-cutting measures as it looks to deal with huge financial pressures.

The most high profile is a reduction in funding provided to a number of charities who provide housing and homelessness services such as Stonepillow, Crawley Open House, YMCA Downslink Group and Turning Tides.

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The total value of the contracts held with the range of organisations is £6.3m a year but this will be reduced to £4.6m in 2019/20 and then to £2.3m in 2020/21.

Separate decisions have seen the council agree to reduce its Local Assistance Network (LAN) budget from £807,000 to £200,000 a year alongside a remodelling of the existing service as well as cutting income for adults receiving arranged care through changes to the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG).

The MIG will be reduced to the statutory minimum and the amount people pay will remain means-tested.

For the last three years the county council has continued to fund the LAN despite receiving no central government funding for it, but the authority says it is now unable to continue supporting these services in the same way.

Changes to the council’s Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service (IPEH) have also been approved.

According to the county council in order to manage a reduction in Government funding it is proposing to develop a more targeted family support service so it can continue to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged families in West Sussex.

A revised bus strategy will see subsidies reduced by £300,564 next year to £2.27million. Discussions are underway with operators, other local authorities and community organisations to attempt to keep the impact of funding changes to a minimum.

No changes to bus services will be made until April 2019 at the earliest.

Leader: Decisions ‘not taken lightly’

Council leader Louise Goldsmith said: “We have a really good track record of taking care of our residents’ money and keeping our finances solid. However now, even for us, the financial situation is becoming so tough that we are being forced to take some very difficult decisions.

“I want to reassure our residents that we have not taken any decision to reduce services lightly and we will do all we can to work with our partners in other authorities and the voluntary sector to make sure any impact is kept to a minimum and we continue to protect the most vulnerable people in West Sussex.”

All decisions are subject to the statutory call-in period of seven working days.

‘Outrage’ at decision to cut housing support funding

Peter Lamb, Labour leader of Crawley Borough Council, said he was ‘outraged’ by the decision to cut funding for housing-related support services, while James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem Group on the county council, criticised the Tories for pressing ahead with the cuts and going against the health and adult social care committee (HASC) recommendation to delay them.

Dr Walsh said: “She [cabinet member Amanda Jupp] has acted with virtually total disregard to all the evidence produced at the committee, with inordinate haste even before the minutes are produced, and attempted to smuggle this devastating announcement through just before the Christmas break.”

Kate O’Kelly, another Lib Dem member of the HASC said “To take this action, in the week before Christmas, and when homelessness is rising rapidly, is a dereliction of the Council’s staled aims of supporting the most vulnerable in our society, including ex- service personnel, and victims of domestic violence. What is the point of taking all this powerful and compelling evidence from experts across the county, and then ignoring it?”

Meanwhile Labour county councillor Michael Jones criticised the timing of the decisions just before Christmas so they would not be directly challenged in meetings for two months.

At last week’s HASC meeting members called for a delay of up to one year to ensure the best chance to remodel and preserve services.

They also called for the proposed £1.7million funding cut for 2019/20 to be ditched.

Council to work with partners to find solutions

Amanda Jupp, cabinet member for adults and health, said today: “The consultation provided the opportunity to meet with the coalition of providers, the district and borough councils as well as those people who would be affected by any change in funding. Therefore we have decided to continue to invest in these services but just not to the same level that we have to date.

“We have already begun the detailed conversations with our district and borough councils, and the voluntary and community sector organisations that provide many of these services, and we will continue to work together on developing new ways of delivering this type of support.

“I fully recognise the vital services provided by those who are funded through HRS. The phased reduction of this funding, over a period of two years, is to enable us to work with these providers, and other partners, to find solutions which continue to meet the needs of our residents but also deliver the savings that we have to make.”

On bus subsidy reductions, Roger Elkins, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, said: “We believe that where possible public bus services should be run on a commercial basis. With the ever-increasing financial challenge faced by the whole County Council, we have had to look at reducing funding for subsidised bus services. It is important to stress that school transport services will not be affected.

“We would welcome hearing from any organisations, not yet contacted, who would like to be involved in finding alternative funding sources or providing community transport.”

Meanwhile Paul Marshall, cabinet member for children and young people, added: “Supporting vulnerable children and families is one of our key priorities. Our Think Family programme, working with the most vulnerable families, has been successful and we are committed to maintaining it in the next financial year as central funding for this programme reduces. As a result, our wider early help services need to save £560,000 in 2019/20.

“We are managing this by conducting a review of our Integrated Prevention Earliest Help service to look at creating a more targeted early help service that maintains this specialist support to families. We are working to find alternative providers for the small number of schemes affected that we currently fund.”