Options for spending cuts at West Sussex County Council to be explored further

West Sussex County Council has taken another step towards closing two of its tips and cutting the hours disabled people can use their bus passes.

Leader Paul Marshall said: “We have a duty and a responsibility as a local authority to provide and prioritise our resources – but equally we have to balance our budget.”
Leader Paul Marshall said: “We have a duty and a responsibility as a local authority to provide and prioritise our resources – but equally we have to balance our budget.”

The plans are among a swathe of cost-cutting measures being tabled in an attempt to plug a £43.6m gap in the budget – something it is required to do by law.

At a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday (November 24), members agreed unanimously that 18 cuts should be explored further before a final decision is taken by the full council in February.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

As well as the cuts to the bus pass scheme and the tips, services for the elderly and vulnerable – such as in-house residential services and some day services – could also take a hit.

Leader Paul Marshall said: “We have a duty and a responsibility as a local authority to provide and prioritise our resources – but equally we have to balance our budget.”

The proposals will cut £4.593m from the budget in 2021/22 and £2.553m in 2022/23. A further £15.5m is made up of decisions already in place and changes which will not lead to a reduction in services.

That still leaves a sizeable £23.4m hole to fill and far too much uncertainty about any help coming from the government.

Mr Marshall estimated that the pandemic had cost the council around £100m which was only partially eased with £45m of emergency Covid funding.

An announcement about the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review – how much is spent on public services – is due this week, while news of any Local Government Finance Settlement is scheduled for early December.

Mr Marshall added: “These are very difficult decisions that we’re having to consider in the event that our local government settlement doesn’t mitigate some of the challenges that are here.

“I recognise the harshness and the candid choices we are having to consider – and nobody wants to do that. But ultimately we have to cut our envelope to what we know we can deliver.”

Katherine Eberhart, director of finance, told the cabinet there was ‘a sizeable challenge ahead’.

She added: “It is likely that we’re going to end up setting a balanced budget – and the budget not only has to be balanced but it needs to be sustainable – by using reserves as it’s unlikely we’ll have enough other options.”

The council has a General Reserve of £20m as well as a Business Management Reserve totalling £26m.

Ms Eberhart said it was likely the council would have to draw on the latter but needed to make sure the fund was replenished before the 2022/23 budget came around.

The proposed cuts did not sit will with members of the opposition.

Liberal Democrat leader Dr James Walsh warned that cutting £2.24m from the Lifelong services day services – a scheme set up to help anyone with autism or any other life-long disability – could have a ‘severe and long-lasting’ impact on those involved.

He and Labour leader Michael Jones also warned there would be a ‘barrage of disapproval’ from the public about the plans for the tips and predicted an increase in fly-tipping – which the district and borough councils would have to pay to have cleared away.

Mr Jones urged the cabinet to make the sale of under-used or unused council-owned property the number one priority given the amount of money such sales could generate.

He accused the county of ‘moving at a snail’s pace’ on the issue.