An extension for funding to charities providing support for homeless and vulnerable people in West Sussex under threat of being scrapped is only a ‘stay of execution’, according to opposition members.
West Sussex County Council is reviewing its contracts worth a combined £6.2m with a range of organisations that were due to end in April 2019.
The charities involved have warned that losing this source of funding would lead to service reductions and some closures in areas including supported housing for vulnerable young people and hostels for the homeless.
Amanda Jupp, cabinet member for adults and health, announced today (Friday October 19) that the contracts will be extended by six months until September 2019 while the review is carried out.
She said a final decision has not been made and is due in December. Until then they would be working with district and borough council colleagues as well as a coalition of the service providers to find a long-term sustainable solution.
She apologised for any anxiety caused by the original publication of the proposals, but described how the county council could ‘no longer deliver services on our own’.
She accused others of turning the issue into a ‘political battle’, but added:”We can all work together to improve what is available in the county for this group of residents.”
‘STILL AN AXE HANGING OVER THEIR HEADS’
Labour’s Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) said that people power had forced a climbdown, but added: “There is still an axe hanging over their heads. This is a stay of execution not a reprieve.”
In response Mrs Jupp (Con, Billingshurst) said: “Just give us a chance. Do not make this a negative thing, it should be a positive. You should be happy we are trying to provide something better for our residents.”
Any extension longer than six months would see the issue ‘go off the boil’. She added: “We have got people galvanised.”
They would be looking at other funding options and remodelling of the contracts to ‘ensure the sustainability of the services long term’.
At the meeting in County Hall a petition calling for the proposed cuts to be dropped and signed by more than 10,000 people was discussed as well as a motion by Mr Jones where he asked for both the contracts to be maintained in full for 2019/20 and the rejection of proposals being considered to terminate them.
Before the meeting protesters against the cuts gathered on the steps of County Hall to make their feelings known, with some Tory councillors choosing to use a side entrance to avoid them.
Meanwhile a handful of campaigners slept rough for the night in sleeping bags just outside County Hall to highlight the potential effect cuts might have.
Presenting the petition was Peter Lamb, Labour leader of Crawley Borough Council, who argued that the services provided were a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
He told WSCC not to treat district and borough councils like a ‘slush fund’ as they had their own financial pressures.
Mr Lamb added: “They accuse me of politicising the debate. This is trying to retreat from the reality that what is proposed is monstrous and you can’t hide from that.”
He felt collaborative working had been made impossible by the behaviour of WSCC’s chief executive Nathan Elvery.
COUNCIL HAVING TO MAKE DIFFICULT DECISIONS
An amendment to Mr Jones’ motion by David Barling (Con, Bramber Castle), approved by the majority of councillors, instead asked the cabinet member to ensure housing related services are maintained in a sustainable way and continue to promote the Government’s homelessness strategy for rough sleepers.
He voiced ‘grave concerns’ about the whole issue, but described how a limited budget dictated if they did not make savings in one place it meant having to make difficult decisions elsewhere.
Duncan Crow (Con, Tilgate and Furnace Green) suggested the scale of the financial problems facing the county council were ‘infinitely more serious’ than those facing any other local authority in West Sussex.
He added: “We all need to work together to maximise efficiencies to continue to fund the adults’ services we all want to see provided.”
Meanwhile James Walsh (Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, said it was a ‘disgrace’ a country as rich as the UK had homelessness anywhere.
He added: “Local government is being tasked with being the callous agents of Tory central Government policies by refusing to properly tax the wealthiest people in this country who are welcomed with open arms.”
Morwen Millson (LDem, Horsham Riverside) suggested cuts would have repercussions for other county council services and in the long-run could end up costing the authority more.
Chris Oxlade (Lab, Bewbush and Ifield West) agreed, saying the cuts would be a ‘false economy’ given the stress they would place on a range of other public services and felt there was nowhere near enough time for the charities to secure alternative sources of funding. He added: “You are not giving them a chance.”