Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The difficult choices we face as a County Council

The past two weeks have been particularly busy in the run up to County Council last Friday, where we presented the schedule of the £61 million pounds of savings we need to find over the next two years.

That figure forms part of the total £141 million savings that we need to find over the next four years. This is an extremely big ask for all concerned at the County Council, particularly when we are just at the end of the £79 million savings which we announced three years ago and have successfully found. And here we now are starting out once again.

In January each of the County Council’s Select Committees will have the opportunity to scrutinise, question and make comments on the proposed savings. The final schedule, taking into account comments made and any further amendments, will come before the County Council on Friday 14 February for debate and final agreement.

There have been a few suggestions that the County Council could raise council tax instead of making further savings. But in order not to make the £141 million savings that we need, we would have to increase council tax by 8.6% each year for the next four years. At a time when salaries are not increasing and with the costs of food and heating going up and other increases in the pipeline, this would put many household budgets under severe strain. I don’t think that is fair on our residents, which is why we are working hard to establish where the savings can be made at the County Council rather than putting the burden on our residents.

Nobody relishes this task, but as County Councillors we have duties and responsibilities – which means making very difficult choices and decisions. Avoiding them or using our capital to put off the time to act would be seriously detrimental to the County Council and could have a big impact on the services we deliver.

But is there no Christmas cheer from the county Council? Well there is some based on our capital expenditure.

Firstly we have announced a multi-million (in the region of £30 million) investment in our unclassified roads over the next two years. These are minor roads which, particularly in rural areas, are often used as rat runs, but will also include streets in residential and town areas – and form about 55% in total of our highways network in the county.

This autumn we made the decision to set up the Sussex Energy Partnership, which will help to offset some of those energy increases in homes that need improvements and will help some residents who are in fuel poverty.

We've also secured a £30 million investment package for schools in the Worthing area - a £20 million government grant and £10 million of County Council funds. This will see the creation of a brand new £13 million secondary school and hundreds of additional school places to cope with a growing population. It could also see a change in the age at which children transfer to secondary school.

So while there are extremely tough decisions to be made, I am pleased to say that as a Council we are still able to invest in key areas and this is largely thanks to the prudent financial management we have been able to follow over the years.

Best wishes,
Louise

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