West Sussex County Council delivers 80% of local government services to residents in our county, and thousands of the staff who provide them are UNISON West Sussex members.
Each year the Council sets a budget and Council Tax level at its February meeting. Ahead of February 2015, the Council is currently consulting on what services people feel are important, and whether they would be prepared to pay a little more tax to support services.
The Council can only put Council tax up by a maximum of 1.99%, as the Government now forces Councils to hold expensive referendums if they want to increase it by any more.
Times are hard, but would you be prepared to pay a few more pence a week if it meant that services and jobs could be saved?
The Council says on its website: “We anticipate needing to make savings of more than £120 million in the next four years to be able to balance the books and deliver critical services to those who need them. If possible, we’d like to make these savings while maintaining – or even reducing – our share of your council tax bill.”
UNISON West Sussex does not believe this to be possible by any stretch of the imagination. UNISON members know full well that the cuts so far have been savage. Youth services decimated, social care stretched to its limit and no longer available to thousands, staff vacancies not filled, lunch breaks a thing of the past, redundancies across the organisation, and downgrading through restructures commonplace. £120million of more cuts means that critical services will reduce and sometimes will stop entirely, just as they did after the £79million of cuts from the previous 4 years. To reduce or freeze Council Tax would only make matters worse and would increase the cuts the Council would need to make.
Any UNISON member completing the survey will see that it leaves a lot to be desired. The public are asked to rate services in terms of their importance – but from a very long list they can only choose 5. A danger is that most residents may not have even heard of the service, let alone used it. Would an average resident know enough about the Council’s ‘Community development support’ to rate it higher than ‘Road maintenance’?
Despite these dangers the Branch is encouraging its members to complete the survey. There are free text areas available so that members can give their views of the Council’s survey. It is also possible to ignore the ill-conceived questions at the start of the survey and go straight to the question on Council tax, number 4.
The survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/s/whatmatterswestsussex and lasts until 12th October.