Cabinet member resigns over his concerns at ‘significant tax increase’ at West Sussex County Council

ks1500506-3 Tangmere Solar Farm  phot kate Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex Country Council and Michael Brown, former cabinet member for Finance, at the new Solar Farm in Tangmere last year.ks1500506-3 SUS-150710-140305008
ks1500506-3 Tangmere Solar Farm phot kate Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex Country Council and Michael Brown, former cabinet member for Finance, at the new Solar Farm in Tangmere last year.ks1500506-3 SUS-150710-140305008
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Concerns over a potential council tax rise have led to the resignation of West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for finance.

Michael Brown (Con, Fernhurst) stood down from the cabinet last week after more than five years and confirmed it was on a matter of ‘political principle’ as a ‘low tax, low spend Tory’ he felt unable to stand up in a budget debate early next year and announce a significant tax increase.

He has been replaced by Jeremy Hunt (Con, Chichester North), who was cabinet member for education and skills, by WSCC leader Louise Goldsmith.

Mr Brown said: “I chose to stand down as a matter of political principle.

“As a low tax, low spend Tory, I felt unable, as cabinet member for finance who had frozen council tax for the five previous years, to stand up in our budget debate and announce a significant tax increase.

“Once local authorities get the taste for increasing tax, they find it really, really difficult to stop.”

West Sussex County Council is looking to make more than £140m of cuts over the next four years due in part to reduced central Government funding, and a recent report stated that each one per cent increase to its precept would generate an additional £3.7m.

In his Autumn Statement last month, Chancellor George Osborne announced that local authorities would be given the flexibility to raise council tax by up to two per cent purely to fund adult social care.

But earlier this month council officers explained that the move could generate £31.8m over four years, but would fall short of the £49m of additional expected budget pressures to the adult social care department.

In a press release issued by WSCC on the cabinet changes it simply said Mr Brown had ‘stood down from the cabinet’.

A spokesman for WSCC said: “Discussions are continuing over the budget for 2016/17 and no decisions have been finalised yet. We await the Government’s announcement on Thursday of how much grant funding we will receive, and further details about the two per cent council tax increase specifically for the shortfall in social care funding.

“We are doing all we can to ensure we provide quality services for all our residents while ensuring value for money for the West Sussex taxpayer. However with the on-going squeeze on funding and increasing demands on our services, we will face some difficult choices.”

In other changes Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill and Worth) will replace Mr Hunt as cabinet member for education and skills.

Mr Burrett was elected to the county council in 2009 and has been a member of Crawley Borough Council since 1992. He has a special interest in education, and is a member of the Court of Sussex University.

He is also a trustee of Crawley Open House and was previously a non-executive director of the former Crawley Primary Care Trust.

Meanwhile Mr Hunt, who has lived in West Sussex for nearly 40 years and in Chichester itself for 34 years, has spent most of his working life in the steel stockholding and processing industry, based in Chichester. With his five fellow directors he helped build a successful group of steel service centres throughout the UK.

Michael Cloake (Con, Worthing Pier) will become the new chairman of the Children and Young People’s Select Committee, replacing Mr Burrett.

He and his wife are foster carers, Michael has been a lifelong supporter of the Chanctonbury Community Play Scheme (CCPS), and he has devoted many voluntary hours to help special needs children and their families each summer.

Janet Duncton (Con, Petworth), will become the committee’s vice chairman.

WSCC has been approached for comment on a potential rise in its element of council tax.

What do you think should happen to council tax? Comment below or email the newsdesk.

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