West Sussex to consider £124m ‘savings’

County Hall in Chichester
County Hall in Chichester

COUNTY councillors have outlined how they plan to plug a £124m hole in their budget over the next four years.

Full council today (December 12) is set to consider the budget report.

The draft plans show more than £5m will be saved from both children’s services and adult social care over the next two years – though councillors who devised the plan insist the measures are ‘savings and not cuts’ to services.

At the same time, the council announced its key spending plans until 2019, with £15m set to go on roads, and further investment going towards high-speed broadband and its Think Family programme.

Reductions in government grants over the next four years have contributed to a £124m deficit in the amount of money West Sussex County Council will need, and the amount it will have by 2019.

At the council’s performance and finance select committee meeting last Thursday {December 4} Michael Brown, cabinet member for finance, said: “The funding gap is still £124m over the next four years, and what the paper reinforces is that we are still on track to do that in two parts.

“For 2015/16 and 16/17, we plan to save £68m, and for 17/18, 18/19, £56m.”

The draft report showed that over the next two years: £7.9m will be reduced in residents’ services; £5.2m reduced in children – start of life; £5.1m from health and adult social care; £2m taken out of finance; and £2.3m from highways and transport.

Among the budgeted savings of £40m for next year is a £16.5m transfer payment from the National Health Service, which is dependent on the council meeting key requirements.

“I’m sure we’ll get the money, but we have a cash flow problem in that we might not get it in the next financial year, but our cash balance is strong enough we can live with that, it won’t derail the programme.”

Praising the plans, Cllr Richard Burrett said: “I think it’s refreshing when you compare this with other parts of the public sector, that when you look through this savings schedule, they are savings, they are not cuts. They are changes in the way we do things.”

He pointed to the proposed £1m savings in fostering and adoption by using in-house WSCC resources rather then costly independent foster agencies as an example.”

The council also outlined its draft Future West Sussex Plan for 2015-19, which shows what projects money will be spent on and which it says have been shaped with the help of the Your Say Survey, which nearly 3,000 people filled out.

The key investments outlined in the corporate plan include £4m per year for the next two years to alleviate pressure on the adult services’ budget; multi-million pound investment in high-speed broadband across the county; an additional £15m in the Better Roads programme; and further investment in the council’s Think Family programme.

Cllr Mike Glennon, however, called the draft spending report a ‘very optimistic document’, and warned: “What I’m conscious of is the dangers of promising one hell of a lot, and then not been able to deliver it on the financial side.

“So we’ve got to be able to marry the two up very carefully. What I’m urging is great caution in painting the dream, when at a nuts and bolts level, is it going to be deliverable and achievable?”

However WSCC leader Louise Goldsmith insisted: “It is not a dream, we have tied this into our savings, and the money that we have got and we are very much going to be living within our means.”