Further housing support cuts suspended — but reductions to West Sussex’s library service still on table

Bedding belonging to rough sleepers
Bedding belonging to rough sleepers

Plans to cut funding support from some of the most vulnerable people in West Sussex by more than £1million have been suspended for a year – but a number of libraries are still at risk.

At a County Hall meeting today (Thursday July 11), members of the county council’s cabinet looked at 18 areas put forward for millions of pounds of possible cuts or savings.

Several Tier 6 libraries could be closed as part of cost cutting

Several Tier 6 libraries could be closed as part of cost cutting

Perhaps the most controversial was that of housing related support.

The service offers help to homeless and vulnerable people and there was an outcry when it was announced that £4m of its £6.3m budget would be cut by April 2020.

This latest proposal called for another £1.3m to be cut in 2020/21, leaving just £1m in the pot.

With a lot of work going on between the council and partners such as the Stonepillow and Turning Tides charities to help stretch the budget and find other funding streams, Amanda Jupp, cabinet member for adults & health, asked for the idea to be dropped.

Explaining that there were ‘many critical decisions being made’, she added: “There’s a lot of hard work going into this. We’re bringing everyone together, we’re working hard with our partners – and Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“I would really regret losing the trust that we have built up with our partners and providers since this decision was originally taken.

“In the fullness of time we will get a much better outcome which will then show that we will not have to be funding this to such a large extent.”

It was agreed to suspend the proposal for one year.

Members were given three options for the 18 areas – to put them forward for more work to find out if they would be viable, to take them off the table completely, and to pause any further work until a later stage.

Even if paused, a proposal could be put back on the table at a later point in the budget procedure.

The county council is legally required to present a balanced budget in February 2020.

One of the other proposals was to save up to £500,000 by making some changes to the library services – changes such as closing several branch libraries, reducing opening hours, and removing the mobile library service.

The libraries at risk would all be from the 13 rated as tier 6. They are: Angmering, Arundel, Broadwater, East Preston, Ferring, Findon Valley, Hassocks, Hurstpierpoint, Petworth, Pulborough, Southbourne, Southwater and Witterings.

This proposal was put forward for further work.

The council is working on transforming libraries into community hubs, bringing various services under one roof, and Debbie Kennard, cabinet member for safer, stronger communities, said she thought the £500,000 could be ‘mitigated’ through that work.

When Dr James Walsh, leader of the opposition, asked what exactly that meant, he was told the proposal would be ‘included in the Forward Plan for further work to be done, looking at mitigation as the solution’.

Among the other key issues were plans to close two of the county’s 11 tips – known as household waste recycling sites.

This was deferred for a year, with Paul High (Con, Worthing West) declaring: “If one of the two that’s shut is the Worthing centre, look forward to World War Three.”

Other members also had concerns, pointing out that to close the tips would be the removal of a service, not a saving.

They also looked at a list of 12 other ideas from members, agreeing to put four of them forward for a closer look.

They were: raising money by renting out libraries as business meeting rooms when they are not in use, raising money by leasing unused space at County Hall, considering cuts to the council’s communications and policy team, and considering removing its communities and partnership team.

A report to the meeting stated that all the work was ‘at a very early stage’ and no final decisions would be taken until it was ready for further consideration during the autumn.

After the meeting, council leader Louise Goldsmith said: “We are facing an extremely difficult financial situation and it means we have to look at a number of unpalatable options.

“Today at the public cabinet, having listened to the contribution from members we have a withdrawn some of the options put forward.

“In running this budget process we have allowed ourselves enough time to look at how we can mitigate the impact of any change in services to the people affected.

“We will continue to lobby government vigorously to increase funding for adult social care and to introduce a funding model for local government that gives us financial certainty over the next five years.”

Full list of decisions:

Cabinet Member for Adults and Health

1. Review in-house residential and day care services – put forward

2. Review transport to care services – paused

3. Limit inflationary increase in fees paid to care providers – put forward

4. Manage demand pressure – Older People – put forward

5. Reduce housing-related support – suspended for a year

6. Reduce Local Assistance Network (LAN) – put forward but with £100k cut rather than £200k

Cabinet Member for Education and Skills

7. Reduce post-16 support service – put forward but with £95k cut not £190k

8. Increase Special Support Centres in schools – put forward

Cabinet Member for Environment

9. Reduce the number of household waste recycling sites (HWRS) – deferred for a year

10. Withdraw the mobile HWRS service – put forward

11. Reintroduce charging for DIY waste at HWRSs – put forward

12. Reduce recycling credits – put forward

Cabinet Member for Safer, Stronger Communities

13. Review Community Hubs Library Offer – put forward

Cabinet Member for Highways and Infrastructure

14. Reduce Highways Place Based Services – rejected

15. Reduce supported Bus Services – paused

16. Cease Discretionary Bus Passes – paused

Cabinet Member for Corporate Relations

17. Accelerate Whole Council Design put forward

Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources

18. Increase income from fees & charges – put forward