Campaigners outraged at county’s care cuts stance

SOUTH OF ENGLAND PICTURE LIBRARY - COPYRIGHT RESERVED - MANAGED BY PPL PHOTO AGENCY    �(R)Tel: +44 (0)1243 555561 'E-mail:ppl@mistral.co.uk 'Web: www.southofenglandpictures.co.uk'PHOTO CREDIT:  Barry Pickthall/PPL'***Don't Cut Us Out campaigners - speaking up for the vulnerable across West Sussex presenting a 10,000 strong petition calling on WSCC to reverse its decision to cut benefits and care support to those judged to have 'moderate' disabilities.'Left to right: Councillor Peter Catchpole (cabinet member responsible for Adult Services), Jason Attenborough and Andrew Pickthall (both Aldingbourne Country Centre, Fontwell).

SOUTH OF ENGLAND PICTURE LIBRARY - COPYRIGHT RESERVED - MANAGED BY PPL PHOTO AGENCY �(R)Tel: +44 (0)1243 555561 'E-mail:ppl@mistral.co.uk 'Web: www.southofenglandpictures.co.uk'PHOTO CREDIT: Barry Pickthall/PPL'***Don't Cut Us Out campaigners - speaking up for the vulnerable across West Sussex presenting a 10,000 strong petition calling on WSCC to reverse its decision to cut benefits and care support to those judged to have 'moderate' disabilities.'Left to right: Councillor Peter Catchpole (cabinet member responsible for Adult Services), Jason Attenborough and Andrew Pickthall (both Aldingbourne Country Centre, Fontwell).

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THE CAMPAIGN group dedicated to fighting the cause of helping vulnerable people in West Sussex has released emails and sources of information following West Sussex County Council’s defiant statement last week.

The Don’t Cut Us Out (DCUO) group was outraged when it read the statement from the county council in this newspaper saying the local authority ‘had taken the decision to not comment of claims made by the DCUO campaign’.

Barry Pickthall from the group wrote to the paper saying: “We read with disbelief WSCC’s response to the County Times and decided that we should disclose the correspondence we have had with Kieran Stigant, the chief executive at the council and leave you to judge who is making the effort to seek an equitable resolution to the problems of care support.”

One of the campaign’s criticisms is that Mr Stigant has a salary higher than the Prime Minister at £175,000.

He is also due to get a 20 per cent bonus of £35,000, which would alone fund the cuts to care for 20 vulnerable people, claim DCUO.

The emails show that whereas last week’s WSCC statement inferred the campaign group ‘preferred to chase negative headlines’ rather than to accept invitations to be involved in the shaping the future provision, there have been meetings between the two parties, but each time DCUO left with unanswered questions and requested more information.

The exchange also includes an email from an anonymous claimant who told Mr Pickthall they were ‘afraid and alone’ after losing care from the council.

They told him: “I have had my care package i.e. Direct Payments completely taken away and I am devastated.

“I am appealing but am so low now. The assessment, was not kind and leaflets were left for me, no other help was given. Just a letter stating that they are taking away my whole package.

“Without the help I am left afraid and so alone. I have an advocate coming on Friday to see me from MIND charity.”

Mr Pickthall said he gets emails and phone calls with similar emotion every day

In response the council’s claims its ‘Dossier of Shame’ figures were from a ‘mish mash of sources’ the campaigner this week also disclosed the sources of the data, now displayed on their website www.dontcutusout.org.uk. (see Letters, page 10)

Some of the data was provided by deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats at WSCC James Walsh.

Before the council released its new statement, Dr Walsh said: “I helped them get the data on the reserves, and the figures that I gave came to me by email from the county’s director of finance Richard Hornby.

“I stand by those figures that were provided to me. I’m not surprised that the county council is refusing to comment because these figures show them in a bad light.

“They are pleading poverty to the people of West Sussex when at the same time they are stashing away money for a rainy day, when for many people there is a huge thunderstorm and flash flooding going on at the moment.”

The figures Dr Walsh provided to the group and printed in last week’s paper stated that WSCC had £108m in reserves in March 2011 and now they stand at £146m.

This week after numerous general press enquiries and finally a Freedom of Information request, WSCC has stated it has almost £146m in usable reserves (the exact figure is £145,752,000) up from 108m in March 2011.

Last week they stated the DCUO claims were ‘inaccurate, outdated and misleading’.

Although this data is available on the County Council website, in the Budget Book, where the County Times was first directed to, there are thousands of figures to interpret and in the interests of accuracy we submitted an FoI request asking for the exact figures.

As a result, further information released this week states that at the end of the 2011/12 financial year the ‘usable reserves’ were made up of £127.3m earmarked reserves, £1.12m in capital reserves and £17.3m in a General Fund used to cover emergency spending and shortfalls.

The council has confirmed £15.5m will be transferred from the revenue funding in 2012/13 and none of the earmarked reserves is due to be spent in Adult Services.

The County Times also asked what the council’s plans were for its reserves over the next 12 months.

The council responded with the following statement: “It is important in this context to ensure that reserves are adequate to cope with setbacks, and to fund the investment programme necessary to deliver the savings target.

“The base budget revenue contribution to the service transformation (£9.2m) is therefore retained.

“A further one-off contribution of £6.3m to balances is also proposed.

“This is intended to provide financing for the capital investment programme and to meet revenue pressures arising from the Local Government Resource Review and the more pessimistic public finance assumptions outlined in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

“The contributions are considered to prudent in the context of a bleak spending outlook over life of the Finance Strategy—in particular the worsened prospects announced by the Chancellor in November - and the considerable costs of change still to be incurred in making the County Council a modern and efficient organisation.

“The General Fund (unrestricted reserves) must cover items such as risks of overspending, act as a buffer against any emerging financial pressure or shortfall, and potentially cover costs of major disasters such as floods, as well as any other emergency purpose.”

The council pointed out the figures for 2010/11 were forecasts and said itwas therefore not in a position to comment on the reserves planned in 2012/13. The Don’t Cut Us Out group continues to campaign for better services for vulnerable and disabled people across the county.

Their helpline is 01243 555561, mobile 07768 395719, email dontcutusout@gmail.com and their website is www.dontcutusout.org.uk

Letters pages 10 and 12