REGULAR readers of your letters’ pages will be aware of Margaret Guest’s undoubted commitment to being a voice for the Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign.
Of course the weak and the very vulnerable do need strong advocates to help them and for those that do so in a measured and constructive way, I applaud.
However, I take issue with scaremongering. So, please, let’s be clear about the facts.
Over the past four years, West Sussex County Council has had to find £79m worth of savings. No easy task, I can assure you, when there are serious conflicting demands and statutory duties that we, as a council, take very seriously.
These span our duty to protect the young, vulnerable and elderly, to ensuring we are there in an emergency, to maintaining and improving our extensive road network. Put into the mix a strong desire to help many households to keep their bills to a minimum and yes, we have had to make some very difficult decisions.
But, in doing so, we have not stepped over any extreme lines. Indeed, in raising the eligibility criteria, hotly resisted by the Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign, we have come into line with the requirement of the recent Social Care Act.
Now we face another daunting challenge of finding a further £120m and we have been working on this for the last year.
Despite these substantial savings we continue to make investments in the areas that people tell us are most important to them. So £30m over two years into our roads and an additional £6m into our adult social care service to name but a few.
Just as before, we look firstly to where we can make savings internally – but that is not easy either. In January, we announced the post of chief executive had been made redundant to be replaced by an interim chief operating officer. At the council meeting in July, a new management structure was agreed. This slims down our management considerably to ensure we make the savings which do not impact on the weak and vulnerable. We anticipate savings of around £8m from these changes allowing us to support key services.
We believe in helping people to help themselves which is why I have been campaigning on the Local Assistance Grant which has been massively helpful to those in need, alongside our support of the West Sussex Credit Union, small items in themselves but with big, big impact.
Margaret Guest wants more money for the weak and vulnerable. Admirable. But in the cold light of reality that would mean axing many services, no money for road maintenance and a hike in council tax of around eight to ten per cent each year for at least the next four to eight years.
To all readers, may I reassure you that we are doing our very best and will continue to do so and meet the many demands made on the council – but at the end of the day we need to make our reducing income stretch as far as possible.
Leader West Sussex County Council
Chichester West Division