West Sussex’s Valentine’s Day Massacre?

West Sussex County Council will discuss slashing £141million from essential local public services at its Full Council meeting on February 14th. The budget was first presented at Full Council on December 13th but will come back for more detailed discussion and decision on Valentine’s Day.

There is little transparency prior to the budget being agreed about the implications of cutting £141million, leaving the public in the dark about what its elected representatives are planning. UNISON has gone on record in the local press to challenge this lack of debate with residents, service users and staff. However, the 60 separate budget lines must signal a bonfire of services through closures, reductions or outsourcing.

That the Council is in this position after already cutting £79million is testimony to the economic incompetence of  central Government. However, the signs are that the Council administration does not believe in public services and indeed welcomes the ‘smaller state’. The Council has it within its power to raise Council Tax after all. A rise of just 2% (45p a week for Band D payers) over the period would raise £29million and go a long way to offsetting some of the awful decisions that will need to be made if the Council straightjackets itself. But the indications are that even 2% is too much for the group currently running County Hall.

As well as shrinking public service provision for its own sake, there is a flat refusal by some Councillors to accept that £141million will be delivered by cuts. In regular liaison meetings, your Branch Reps have been told by Conservative Councillors that £141million will instead be delivered entirely through ‘efficiencies’. There is a complete denial that, to take just one recent example, sacking 118 youth workers represents a loss of service. When evidence is presented that vulnerable people have been harmed through local cuts already, some Councillors refuse to look this in the face and accept that their actions can have devastating consequences.

Meanwhile the Council has been rocked by the shock departure of respected Chief Executive Kieran Stigant. The longest-serving Councillor James Walsh has made clear his view that it is “hard to accept that he [Kieran] was not pushed. Besides this the leader of WSCC has form, as she sacked his predecessor without following due process.” Whether the Chief Executive jumped or pushed, this unwelcome development has cost the local taxpayer over £200,000.

The Branch is calling on members to attend the Full Council meeting on Friday 14th February to show there is opposition and anger at their agenda. Let’s play our part to stop the Valentine’s Day Massacre planned for our public services. Assemble outside County Hall at 9.30am. Full Council begins at 10.30am.

You must agree time off from work with your manager before attending if this is a working day for you.