Freezing council tax for a fourth straight year would be ‘reckless’ of the county council as it faces £61m cuts over the next two years according to UNISON.
West Sussex County Council revealed its intention to freeze its element of the council tax bill for 2014/15 today (Friday December 13) as it looks to make £61 cuts in the next two financial years.
In total the county council is expected to need savings of £141m, and it has come under attack from UNISON and campaign group Don’t Cut us Out for not revealing how the ‘staggering sums’ will affect West Sussex residents.
Dan Sartin, branch secretary of UNISON West Sussex, said: “In the council chamber today it became clear that though huge numbers were quoted for the cuts, cabinet members were not able or prepared to say precisely which services would be hit. “In our view it is reckless to freeze council tax before you can be up front with residents about the details. If residents show through public consultation, which is often mandatory when the council wants to close or reduce a service, that they value services and wish to save them, by then it could be too late as the council will have chosen to wear a financial straightjacket of its own making by agreeing a freeze in February.”
Mr Sartin continued: “It’s not right that residents should be kept out of the debate by County Hall decision-makers. BBC Radio Sussex did a call-in this morning 1n their breakfast show and the majority of respondents said they would be prepared to pay the 30 or 40p a week extra required if it meant that vital services could be maintained.
“Councillors should not be too quick to assume that residents don’t care for their public services.
“There must be a grown-up debate about this and it is the responsibility of council leaders to ensure it happens before the next council meeting in February.”
During today’s meeting Michael Brown (Con, Fernhurst), cabinet member for finance, said that the decision to freeze council tax over the four years, rather than increasing it by the rate of the Retail Price Index (RPI), had meant £159m ‘in people’s pockets helping the West Sussex economy’.
Mr Brown added: “It will mean that until March 2015, council tax for West Sussex County Council services will still be levied at the rate first voted on in this chamber in February 2010.
“I believe that the money can do more economic good when spent by West Sussex residents than by the County Council on their behalf.”