Friday, 19 February 2016

Making a stand against FGM

At today’s meeting of the County Council all 71 Councillors made a stand against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and signed a zero tolerance charter against this extremely harmful practice.
Our message is clear. FGM is a violation of human rights and will not be tolerated in West Sussex.
The County Council has a strong history of uniting and providing a strong voice on issues, one example being a charter against child sexual exploitation, which we signed last year.

This particular charter on FGM was drawn up by a member of staff at the County Council and is a no-nonsense, hard-hitting pledge that clearly sets out our ‘zero tolerance’ approach as a council towards FGM in West Sussex. It was developed following a debate at our County Council meeting last December which called on the Council to support the campaign against FGM.
I believe we are one of the first councils to produce such a charter on FGM and I think this shows West Sussex leading the way on this important discussion and helping set out what is and what is not acceptable in society.
This is very timely – new figures were recently released by Unicef which estimate that more than 200 million females worldwide have experienced FGM – 70 million more than previously thought. The organisation predicts that this is likely to increase over the next 15 years. This is unacceptable and as an organisation we need to play our part in helping stamp out this brutal and barbaric practice.
That is why signing the charter, which has received unanimous cross-party support, is essential as we all need to work together across the county to prevent further victims of FGM.
We are asking our staff, partners, MPs and fellow councils to join us and take the pledge. One of our MPs, Henry Smith, has already signed the charter and has announced he is please to support our zero tolerance approach to FGM.
FGM is a difficult topic to raise and discuss, there’s no doubt about that, but it is so important that we break down the barriers and start a debate. The West Sussex Safeguarding Children Board, which is made up of organisations including the County Council, Police, NHS and other partners, will be holding a series of events this year to coordinate a local response to tackling FGM. This starts next month with an FGM Stakeholder Event.
There is already a lot of good work being carried out in the county to prevent further victims of FGM, but it is vital for us to all stand together to show a united front against this vicious act of cruelty.
Best wishes,

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Building up to our budget

On Friday 19 February the County Council has its annual budget meeting. As you can imagine, the run-up to such an important meeting is always busy and there is lots to do.

This year has been complicated by the late announcement of the financial settlement we receive from Government which contained some difficult news for us to work through, such as less money than we had expected.

We are proposing a 3.95% increase in council tax with the aim of safeguarding critical frontline services and protecting the most vulnerable, which is a priority for us. This proposed increase includes the 2% charge announced by the Government to support the increasing demands on adult social care.

As a Council we haven’t increased our share of council tax for the last six years, a record I am particularly proud of, so any increase is proposed with a heavy heart but a clear head because at this time there is simply no alternative. Big demands on our budget such as children’s and adult social care and implementing the Living Wage, which we support, together with the substantial reduction in our Government grant leaves us with no other option.

You will have seen the very recent announcement that West Sussex is to receive an extra £6.2 million from Government this year to ease the effects of the funding cut and £6.3 million for 2017/18. While of course I welcome this additional funding, this is only temporary relief. The fact of the matter is that the strain on our services remains and we still have big savings we need to make as we are faced with growing demands for our services and ever shrinking resources.

The County Council is the largest provider of local government services in West Sussex. To give you an idea, we deliver services for 821,560 residents. We maintain around 2,486 miles of roads and 2,555 miles of rights of way. Our Fire and Rescue Service were called out to 8,566 incidents in 2014/15 – they are always there in an emergency be it fire, flood or road accidents, and when not an emergency they are out helping in our communities, for example with fire prevention.

In the last 12 months we have placed 48 children with adoptive families. As a council, we take care of 641 Children Looked After. At the other end of the spectrum, in 2014/15 a total of 12,651 adults received care and support from us and we provided long term support to more than 7,600 older residents.

In 2014/15 we educated 108,446 pupils and we safely transport 7,000 children to and from school every day.

Our Trading Standards service works hard to stamp out scams that affect our residents. While our libraries stock almost one million items for people to borrow from books to music and DVDs to language packs. And moving to recycling, with your help in the last six months we stopped 600 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays from going to landfill.

These are just some of the many examples of where your council tax goes to provide services.

So it’s a big thank you from me for your council tax – we couldn’t provide the range of services that we do without your assistance and you can be assured that we use this money wisely. I am extremely proud of the fact that we provide such a range of services and I believe we deliver very good value for money.

This gives you just a flavour of all the work that goes on to ensure we balance the books, look after our vulnerable, frail and elderly, be there in an emergency and provide that range of services to West Sussex 24/7.

Best wishes,