The West Sussex County Council (WSCC) budget will be bad news for staff and residents from April. Central government has hit the council with an unexpected £31.7m cut. This was announced late in Parliament on the 17th December, giving little time to prepare plans. Taking into account funding pressures in social care and the cost of implementing the Tories’ National Living Wage, WSCC estimate the funding gap to be a whopping £44.5million.
West Sussex has a worse settlement this year because of its relative affluence compared to the rest of the UK. Years of lobbying by West Sussex Tories to Tory ministers has had little effect. More than this, central government has changed tack 180 degrees on council tax. After years of encouraging freezes, the government now want WSCC to increase it to help plug the gaps it has created. West Sussex Tories mistakenly took the freeze bait for five years, and are millions short every year as a result. Your UNISON reps argued tax freezing was folly. Now WSCC agree with us and are finally planning a tax rise of 3.95% to protect essential services.
By raising tax and using reserves, WSCC estimate they can close the gap to £18.7milion. This will be found through a variety of means, but undoubtedly some will be cuts to services and involve staff redundancies. It is too early to say what precise cuts will be made as only bare detail is available, but UNISON Reps have meetings planned with Councillors and Officers in the coming and weeks and months. We will protect your interests where we can and keep you informed.