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 in a measured and constructive way I applaud.
However, I take issue with irresponsible scare mongering and interpreting facts in an irresponsible way.
So, please, let’s be clear about the facts.
Over the last four years West Sussex County Council has had to find £79 million worth of savings to help the government’s drive to reduce the enormous national deficit. No easy task I can assure you when there are serious conflicting demands and statutory duties that we, as a county council, take very seriously.
These span our duty to protect the very young, vulnerable and elderly to ensuring that we are there in an emergency such as floods, fires and accidents to maintaining and improving our extensive road network. The list is long and compelling. Put into the mix a strong desire to help many households to keep their household bills to a minimum - we have not increased the council tax for four years which has been very much appreciated by very many - 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. And let’s be very clear, we are still doing our very best to care and support our very vulnerable in very many ways with good results, a fact studiously ignored by Margaret Guest.
Now we face another daunting challenge of finding a further £120 million and we have been working on this for the last year. Although despite these substantial savings we continue to make investments in the areas that people tell us are most important to them. So £30million over two years into our roads and an additional £6million 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 2014 we announced that the post of chief executive had been made redundant to be replaced by an interim chief operating officer.
If Margaret Guest had kept herself fully informed, and read the newspapers, she would have realised that at the county council meeting in July a new management structure was agreed. This new structure slims down our management considerably to ensure that we make the savings which do not impact on the weak and vulnerable. We anticipate savings of around £8 million from these changes allowing us to support key important services.
We are facing big challenges which I take extremely seriously. The most important thing is to plan and prepare which is what we are doing and keeping our residents informed.
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 in West Sussex 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 county council – but at the end of the day we need to make our reducing income stretch as far as possible.
(Con, Chichester West) Leader, West Sussex County Council, County Hall, Chichester