Rushlake Green Village Leaf

News from the County Council

 

Loose-Leaf report – County Council budget cuts

January 2011

At the January Parish Council meeting, our County Councillor Rupert Simmons (Chairman of East Sussex County Council) presented, to Council members, a summary of the County Council budget proposals recently published. The full budget documents are available online (Click here to view) but they’re inevitably pretty detailed. So we thought it might be of interest to publish a piece about the budget and the economic context for it.
The proposals were first considered by Cabinet at their meeting on the 25th January but will be determined by Full Council on the 8th February.


Are we bothered?

Should any of us really be interested in County Council budgeting? Well yes maybe. It’s our money after all. We pay for it – through income tax, and capital gains tax, and VAT etc, and through local rates. And we are the beneficiaries of it – through the services we receive as individuals or as the wider community of East Sussex. In a nutshell, this year’s budget is all about cuts – and how to keep the money that’s left focused on the most important Council services. No easy job when any individual’s idea of ‘most important’ is probably different from the next persons.

The Cuts

Cllr Simmons started by explaining that next year the ‘Formula Grant’ will be reduced by 12%. (The Formula Grant is, we understand, the general grant provided by central government). He said that, “as part of the Government’s action to tackle the national deficit, East Sussex will be asked to make savings totaling £100m over the next four years, and that this means the Council having to make savings next year totaling £37m.”

Cllr Simmons reminded the Parish Council members that the context for this is that East Sussex still has an annual budget of £500m a year, and will continue to provide a full range of services.  He went on to say that: “the challenge will be to keep the balance of priorities firmly in perspective. For example, one of the highest priorities would be to reduce the impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable – particularly bearing in mind that East Sussex has an increasingly ageing population.”

The impact

He pointed out that “everyone will have to be at their most creative in areas such as youth services and children’s centres. This is because one of the biggest financial hits will be in Children’s Services, where 70 out of 72 children-specific grants have been lost.” (amounting to around £13m of the £37m)

Clearly it is going to be tough for everyone, with the Council having to find ways to maintain the quality of service in critical areas whilst making savings. And this, as Cllr Simmons admitted, will inevitably involve a reduction in the number of people employed by the council. “It is hoped to keep this to the equivalent of 150-200 people - achieved largely without compulsory redundancies. The Council is already in discussion with the unions about this”.

The upside

There is better news on the Capital Programme Contribution where new grants have been announced that will mean a total of £57m to spend next year on capital projects such as support for the academies programme, school and road building improvements. It is also an ambition to secure funding for the Hastings to Bexhill link road and better broadband for the County.

Bearing in mind the terrible state of local roads following the Christmas freeze, Parish Councillors were also pleased to hear that, out of an existing budget of £30m, there is still £23 million left which will cover the remainder of this financial year and the next.

In response to a question from Cllr Turton, Cllr Simmons confirmed that the Council was continuing to pursue savings through economies of scale in partnership with seven other authorities including Hampshire, Kent, Surrey and Brighton.

The context

Cllr Simmons concluded by acknowledging that “the pressure to reduce the national debt is making it tough for everyone in local government to maintain the quality of services – and Wealden also faces many similar pressures”.

[The above piece draws upon the verbatim comments that Cllr Simmons made at the Council meeting and the budget information published on the East Sussex County Council website. For more detail you can click here ]