The world changed when East Sussex County Council (ESCC) published it’s ‘core offer’ document towards the end of last year according to council leader Keith Glazier.
While the full council debated a proposed budget that would see £5m slashed from spending in the coming financial year Mr Glazier told fellow councillors the authority could have been facing having to make cuts of up to £17m.
But he said publication of the ‘core offer’ document that outlined the statutory minimum level of service the council had to provide and how much that would cost had had a profound effect. Mr Glazier told the full council meeting this morning it was one of the key factors that had resulted in government pledges of one-off additional funding that amounts to £18m over the next two years.
While the budget proposed by the ruling Conservative group on the council was ultimately approved there was a lengthy debate. A recurring theme from members of the opposition parties was that the budget document they were being asked to endorse gave very little detail about how the £5m savings would be achieved.
Independent councillor Ruth O’Keefe was just one of many councillors who raised the issue of how savings would be made: “Nobody is really sure exactly which services the cuts will impact. Last year we voted on a budget and did not realise that it would mean the closure of libraries,” she said.
Other councillors expressed concern that those most likely to be affected by any cuts to services would be those in greatest need.
Councillors were considering a proposed budget for 2019/20 which would see ESCC spend £375m on services across the county.
Councillors were also being asked to agree a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax – the equivalent of 80p per week for a typical household.
ESCC has already reduced its spending by £130 million since the start of the decade but according to the council’s leaders it continues to provide ‘high-quality services’, including children’s social care which has been rated as ‘outstanding’.
Councillor David Elkin says: “The spending on services proposed in 2019/20 is higher than first expected, in part because our lobbying of central government has helped secure some extra one-off funding.
“However our finances are still under strong pressure – we predict a funding gap of £21 million for the two years from April 2020. The council is continuing to press for long-term sustainable funding to meet the true needs of residents in East Sussex.”
But the hope for a long term sustainable funding solution is, according to Hastings’ Godfrey Daniel, like a Unicorn, “it’s a mythical creature,” he told the meeting. He added that he believed members of ESCC’s ruling Conservative group were attempting to distance themselves from their Conservative colleagues in government, a government which had, according to Mr Daniel, presided the biggest cuts ever imposed on local government.
“If you want fewer, and worse, public services vote Tory. It’s as simple as that,” he concluded.
The Labour group had submitted an alternative proposal to those recommended for approval by the ESCC cabinet and Mr Daniel accepted that the amendments suggested were small but said they were working with very limited room for manoeuvre. He believed, however, that put his party in a stronger position than the Liberal Democrats, they had submitted no alternative options to the budget proposed by the ESCC cabinet but had pledged to vote against it regardless.
Labour’s suggestions were:
1. Reverse the proposed saving for Standards and Learning Effectiveness Service (SLES) high standards of £0.124m
2. Reverse the proposed saving for SLES performance £0.725m
3. Reverse the proposed saving for Home to School Transport of £0.042m
4. Reverse the proposed saving for working age adults of £0.247m
Which the party claimed could be funded by a reduction of £1.138m in contributions to reserves by the council.