County council ‘on target for savings’

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West Sussex County Council says it is well on target to deliver its savings target of £79 million over three years down to ‘the last penny’.

Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, Michael Brown, was speaking after a meeting that looked at the latest performance monitoring report following the closure of the council’s accounts for 2011/12.

He said: “Last year we achieved our savings target down to the very last penny.

“We are only a few months into the 2012/13 financial year. There is no doubt that we are facing even bigger challenges in the year ahead, but I have every confidence that we will deliver our year two savings in full and will go on to meet our final target.

“I would also want to stress again that whilst we have had to reduce some services and re-shape others, the largest part of our savings package comes from our own efficiencies and new ways of working.

“It has not been easy and I am grateful for the very hard work of our staff.”

Mr Brown also spoke about the importance of maintaining the council’s reserves fund at a prudent level, saying it would help act as a vital buffer for the future.

He said: “The future is very uncertain, and we would be living in a fool’s paradise if we were to think that Government grants are suddenly going to increase again particularly given what the Governor of the Bank of England said only last week about the financial crisis continuing for another five years.

“The majority of money we hold in reserves is there to fund the commitments, and long term contracts we have already entered into in order to improve services for our residents such as our Street Lighting PFI contract and the waste Materials Resource contract.

“Our reserves give us the flexibility we need to ensure we can respond to future demands during very tough economic times, without having to resort to harsh increases in council tax.

“Once you have excluded all the committed money in the reserves fund, we have just £18 million available in the general fund, which may sound like a large amount but, in practice, would in fact only cover the costs of running the entire county council for just 13 days.

“That shows the size and scale of the organisation.

“I know some people have asked why we don’t simply spend our reserves maintaining services, but once that money is spent it is gone and the service is either suddenly cut or we have to seek more money from the taxpayer.

“To find the equivilant of the £18 million general reserve would mean a 4.7 per-cent increase in council tax - £54 for every household in West Sussex - something I am sure residents would not want.

“I am quite satisfied we have a sensible level of uncommitted reserves that allow us to have a buffer against emergency situations and to protect taxpayers from a very difficult on-going financial climate.”

Michael was speaking after a meeting of the county council’s Policy and Resources Select Committee.

The county council has also updated its website pages to give residents more background information to how services are funded and why it has reserves.

The pages can be accessed from the Council Tax and Finance pages of www.westsussex.gov.uk