West Sussex County Council agrees 4.99 per cent council tax rise

West Sussex County Council has approved its budget for 2021/22, increasing its portion of Band D council tax bills by £71.82 for the year.

County Hall, Chichester
County Hall, Chichester

The rise was agreed at a meeting of the full council on Friday (February 12) and takes the Band D bill to £1,510.56 – just over £4 per day.

It amounts to a 4.99 per cent increase, three per cent of which goes to adult social care.

Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, said: “Raising council tax is not something we do lightly, and we are extremely conscious that many people may be struggling financially at the moment.

“However, the alternative would be to cut essential front-line services which our residents rely on.

“Now more than ever we know that people need the services which local government provide so we will continue to look for ways to make efficiency savings, whilst still providing these vital services.” 

Despite predicting an overspend of £5.5m in September, the council managed to present a balanced budget – something it is legally required to do.

Mr Hunt told the meeting that the shortfall had been covered using contingency funds and there had been no need to draw on reserves.

The net annual budget includes £624.8m in revenue expenditure for the day-to-day running of the council – an increase of £31m (5.2 per cent) compared to 2020/21.

There will also be an extra £12m to improve the condition of the highways, and £10m over the next five years to address the challenges of climate change, helping the council to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Despite having managed to balance the budget during a pandemic – something several other councils have failed to do – Mr Hunt warned the meeting that West Sussex faced a £54m budget gap between 2022/23 and 2024/25 if the government didn’t provide more certainty about funding. 

He added that, to continue providing key services, local authorities needed a ‘significant real terms increase in its spending power’.

The meeting saw two amendments to the budget tabled – one from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour – both of which were voted down.

Both amendments called for money to be invested in the county’s Children and Family Centres, as well as the Find It Out youth help centres, and for huge cuts to be made to the council’s communications budget.

On top of that, the Liberal Democrat amendment called for a three per cent increase in discretionary fees and charges, to raise £600,000, while Labour proposed  a ten per cent cut in senior management posts to save £400,000.

After running through a list of the council’s recent failures and expenses – such as the golden handshake to the former chief executive and the huge problems with children’s services – Dr James Walsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused the leadership of ‘smugness and complacency’ when it came to previous budgets.

He added: “Enough is enough. We need a break from ongoing Tory austerity with a better budget and a non-Conservative council elected in May.”

Presenting his group’s amendment, Labour leader Michael Jones said: “We want to demonstrate that another future is possible – a better one for this county.

“It does not have to be like this, no matter what the cabinet put forward, no matter what flimsy reasons the Tory group put up to make excuses for why they won’t vote for any of the amendments put forward by the opposition groups.”

 For further information about the council’s financial position visit: www.westsussex.gov.uk/budget