West Sussex County Council is still reporting a huge budget gap of £75.5million over the next 4 years. The worst of the 4 years is next year, 2020-21, with a projected shortfall of £28million.
This is no doubt caused by the continuation of the completely unnecessary central government policy of austerity which is wreaking havoc across the country. But the position has been exacerbated in West Sussex by the costly and ideologically driven council tax freezes of a few years ago, combined with continued high expenditure on consultants and agency workers.
Councillors were critical of their lack of involvement in the budget-setting process for 2019-20 and so the process is starting early for 2020-21. The Cabinet is due to meet to discuss options on Thursday 11 July. You can read the options put to the Cabinet here. As a list, they are:
- Review in-house residential and day care services
- Review transport to care services
- Limit inflationary increase in fees paid to care providers
- Manage demand pressure – Older People
- Reduce housing-related support
- Reduce Local Assistance Network
- Reduce post-16 support service
- Increase Special Support Centres in schools
- Reduce the number of household waste recycling sites
- Withdraw the mobile household waste service
- Reintroduce charging for DIY waste
- Reduce recycling credits
- Review Community Hubs Library Offer
- Reduce Highways Place Based Services
- Reduce supported Bus Services
- Cease Discretionary Bus Passes
- Accelerate Whole Council Design
- Increase income from fees & charges
A number of these proposals will have a direct impact on UNISON members who work in the services. Many will impact on our members and their families who will see a reduction in the availability of public services or an increase in charges.
Many are eye-catching because they either represent the total withdrawal of a service (such as Local Assistance Network), or because they represent the first significant reduction in a previously relatively-protected service (such as Libraries). Others look familiar (e.g. review of in-house residential and day services – which is ongoing work already), and others have been tried before, unsuccessfully. UNISON will want to know more about the Whole Council Redesign to ensure this does not represent any further outsourcing of services to the Capita contract. West Sussex has seen a spate of insourcings from Capita, as have other local councils such as Southampton.
Staff were not informed of what was to be considered at the public Cabinet meeting. This has caught a number of managers out who are now having to write to their staff to apologise and attempt to reassure staff that no decisions have yet been taken.
UNISON will keep members informed and work with community campaigners to highlight the damage any further cuts will do to the public, service users and our members who deliver the services.