The future of vital services will be at risk if government does not take a long term view on local authority funding was the warning issued by West Sussex County Council today as it announced a proposed 4.95 per cent increase in its share of the council tax.
The stark message came from Leader Louise Goldsmith who said she had taken the ‘incredibly hard’ decision to recommend an additional rise in council tax of 1 per cent over and above the 3.95% planned to help cope with rising demand for core services including child protection and adult social care.
The Government is permitting councils to raise council tax by the extra 1 per cent next year in order to avoid negatively impacting on some key services and if the West Sussex rise goes ahead it will be in line with other councils across England and lower than many.
She said: “It could be easy to forget just how wide reaching the services we provide are. We are there for our residents from the day they are born until the day they die. We are the biggest provider of care, bar the hospitals, in the county. We keep our older people safe from harm and independent for longer, we keep children safe, in care and at home, we protect them and support them and we educate them. We are the Fire and Rescue service, keeping people safe in an emergency and preventing those emergencies in the first place. We are there to keep our county moving by keeping our roads running, our potholes filled.
“One way or another there is little part of life in West Sussex that we are not responsible for or involved in. None of this we do lightly. But we need to plan, we need to be able to continue to evolve and grow as the issues and demands change and we simply can’t do that with a short term view of our finances.
“It is wrong for us, and County Council’s across the country, to continue to have to be reliant on taxing our residents in the current piecemeal way every year to attempt to plug the gap left by central government.
“We have played our part well when Government asked us to and taken more than 30 per cent out of our budget at exactly the same time as demand and need rises. It’s time that the Government supports us with a properly funded long term settlement that enables us to plan and prepare for the challenges we know are ahead and in particular to help our growing elderly population. We are not alone in West Sussex this is a national problem that deserves a national answer. I, and many other council leaders have been asking for years for a long term solution to local government finances.
“It is against all my instincts for me to consider taking the incredibly hard decision to raise council tax when I know some residents are struggling with their own finances but it would also be against my instincts for me not to offer the high quality services that our residents deserve.”
The proposal from the Cabinet at West Sussex County Council is to add 1 per cent to council tax this year bringing the council tax to 4.95 per cent – that’s the equivalent of 12.6p per day for the average Band D Council Tax payer.
Mrs Goldsmith added: “This decision would mean that vital services can continue to run and be developed without us having to make extremely difficult decisions about the future of some those services we know our residents rely on. It would also mean we can move forward more quickly on key priorities as set out in our West Sussex Plan to support those people who are struggling and the most vulnerable in our society. This includes proposals to tackle homelessness in the county, working with our local authority partners to increase the amount of temporary accommodation available, improving the safety of our roads, accelerating our programmes on solar energy, adding to the hardship fund we hold to help residents when they need it the most, developing a programme of volunteering in the county as well as developing our infrastructure locally and making sure we support our residents by developing their life chances.”
The proposals to raise council tax will be scrutinised by the council’s Performance and Finance Select Committee today (Thursday January 18) before being discussed and voted upon at Full Council on February 16.