West Sussex County Council spending cuts announced

The first wave of proposed budget cuts has been announced by West Sussex County Council as it looks to shed more than £75m over the next three years.

The details of the proposed cuts have been published in the agenda papers for the full council meeting which takes place on December 17.

Over the next three years the council proposes to cut £30,8m from adults services, £7.1m from children’s and families services, £2.4m from education, £5.6m from environment and economy services, £13.8m from finance and resource services, £10.3m from highways and transport, £5m from public protection, £2.9m from council wide savings, and £740,000 from cutting back on publishing the council’s newspaper and democratic and legal services.

Council Leader Louise Goldsmith said: “I want to emphasise strongly that these are just proposals at this stage. No final decisions have been taken.

“The agenda papers do clearly demonstrate the scale of the task facing us, and some of the very difficult decisions we may have to take.

“However, this is a budget that is far from being just about cutting services, and very much about a County Council that will be much more efficient and effective in the way that it works.”

Michael Brown, West Sussex Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources said: “We estimate that changes to what are generally known as ‘back office functions’, will provide us with in the region of £60 million of the savings that we have to make.

“That will be a considerable achievement, and will help protect front-line services.”

Louise added: “We made it clear after the Government published its Comprehensive Spending Review back in October, that we expected we would need to make savings of at least £75 million over the next three years.

“That meant a really radical look across the board at all areas of spending, and as a result of some very detailed work we have identified a higher savings figure.”

“This may give us some room for manoeuvre when we learn from the Government exactly how much less grant support it will be giving the County Council towards its services.

“That announcement has still not been made, so the financial picture is still very uncertain as we work towards finalising our spending plans for the February 11 budget meeting of the Council.

“But, I want to assure residents that we will take advantage of the promised support from the government to councils in order to deliver a zero increase in council tax for 2011/12.”

The agenda papers, available on the County Council’s website, include a report from each member of the council’s cabinet about their spending priorities and how savings might be made.

Louise said the reports were all based on principles laid out by the County Council’s Cabinet as it began the budget process.

She added: “We have already said, for example, that the council must live within its means and reduce bureaucracy. The proposals include many examples of savings that can be achieved by operating much more efficiently.

“We are also keeping a pledge to protect our most vulnerable residents, and keep our highways network in a good and safe condition.

“However, there are proposals that will have a direct impact on residents, and there is no escape from that, and no alternative.

“The need to reduce the nation’s debt is going to have a severe impact for councils across the country.

“I can fully understand that communities in West Sussex will be concerned at the possible impact of some of the proposals.

“However, there are and have been for some time, excellent examples of the ‘Big Society’ at work, and we have many public spirited people working very hard with their communities.

“We are looking at how we can empower local people to come forward and give them the tools they need, together with help and advice, so we can share responsibility for delivering local priorities.

“Youth clubs is a good example. We have already made it clear we will support communities if they want to deliver this service in different ways.

“There are many other areas where we will have to make savings, but can work with local communities to mitigate the impact by helping them to help themselves.

“For example, some small libraries could become community hubs where it will still be possible to borrow a book, even if the service is not being provided by the County Council.

“We are also considering reducing our subsidy towards loss making bus services over the next three years because it cannot be right for the taxpayer to provide a subsidy of up to £12 per passenger on some services.

“However, we will look to work closely with the many community run transport schemes up and down West Sussex.

“Our aim is to be as open and transparent as possible throughout the process, and all the proposals will be examined in detail and in public by the Council’s scrutiny committees during January before any final decisions are taken.”

Residents can also watch a video featuring Louise talking about the budget pressures facing West Sussex, as part of our new website feature ‘Digital Democracy’ which can be found at http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/