West Sussex support organisations hit ‘very hard’ by cuts

Foodbank supplies (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) SUS-190930-095801001
Foodbank supplies (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) SUS-190930-095801001

Proposals to cut more money from social care have led to West Sussex County Council being compared to Pontius Pilate.

Members of a County Hall scrutiny committee had strong views about plans to halve the £200,000 Local Assistance Network budget, which had already been hacked from £806,000 in April.

The network provides assistance to families and individuals in times of crisis and helps to fund foodbanks, children and family centres, social enterprises and Citizens Advice.

At a meeting of the Health & Adult Social Care select committee, Amanda Jupp, cabinet member for adults and health, said that since the budget reduction in April, the council had ‘not been made aware of any significant impact’ on those services.

With the council under pressure to find £75.5m of savings over the next four years, attention returned to the assistance network, which it is not legally required to fund.

But James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) was furious with the whole idea.

Dr Walsh said he was ‘shocked by the level of complacency’ shown and reported that he had been told by organisations involved that the cuts had hit them ‘very, very hard indeed’.

He added: “We’re talking about people who don’t have a voice to actually voice their concerns.

“Mothers with young children who are going to family centres and who no longer have that service don’t have time to come and lobby us.

“We are the voice of those people and we ought to be responding on their behalf. They are the most vulnerable people in society.

“You talk to the church groups, you talk to the community support groups of the desperation that some of these people are feeling.”

Dr Walsh slammed the reasoning that there was no legal requirement to provide the service as ‘glib’, and accused the council of washing its hands of the most vulnerable.

He said: “It’s a Pontius Pilate attitude which I distance myself from 110 per cent.

“It’s outrageous that we say we don’t have a statutory responsibility. We may not but we are fellow citizens of West Sussex and we have a moral responsibility as holders and dispensers of public money for these services.”

He was supported by Lt Cdr Noel Atkins (Con, Durrington & Salvington) who said the council had a ‘duty of care’ to the people who used the network.

He added: “It is just so important that we look after these organisations and support them.”

The council is in the middle of a consultation with the service providers and there was incredulity among some members that they were being asked to comment without hearing the results first.

Chairman Bryan Turner (Con, Broadwater) said the issue would be looked again by a working group in November when the results of the consultation were available.

The group’s comments would then be shared at the next committee meeting.

Mrs Jupp urged members to encourage people to share their feedback with the council so that a clear picture could be drawn of the impact of the budget cuts.

The Local Assistance Network was set up in 2013 after government funding to parts of the benefits system was cut and responsibility for providing discretionary service transferred to local authorities.

West Sussex has been funding it from its base budget since 2015.

Karen Dunn , Local Democracy Reporting Service