On Friday, West Sussex county councillors met to debate their budget for 2015/16. Complacent cabinet members beamed as they exchanged self-congratulatory comments on their achievements over the year.
The council leader, Louise Goldsmith, said she was ‘very proud’ to have created 88 new jobs through Be the Business, the council’s controversial multi-million pound scheme supporting local businesses.
But what she failed to mention was the inability of the county council to prevent the many more job losses likely to arise through failed council contracts – one with the Royal Voluntary Service providing 1,000 meals a day to vulnerable people; others with the six home care agencies who have recently withdrawn from their council contracts; or those job losses arising from the recent closure of three nursing homes.
All these businesses provide essential services to the most vulnerable residents, as well as jobs, and in doing so support the wider West Sussex economy. Surely such losses are nothing to be proud of.
Michael Brown, the cabinet member for finance, boasted of having made ‘savings’ of £100 million last year as a ‘formidable achievement’ and that he was very confident of achieving further savings of £124 million over the next four years, with £68 million already planned for the next two years.
Mr Brown’s much-vaunted achievements can only come at the cost of further pain and hardship for vulnerable people. Listed under savings through efficiencies, service re-procurement and redesign are yet further £1 million ‘savings’ from day services. This means further service closures are likely if no new providers come forward to meet the council’s more ‘efficient’ contract price. So, a cut now or a little later, as yet another care business is set up to fail, and again vulnerable people are the casualties.
The council’s budget is dependent on achieving its savings plans for all services, including for social care. But this plan will only increase the financial and emotional burden on families, as services are cut and as means testing for services to save another £1.5 million is set to become more stringent – it shifts the costs also to the health system as A&E and hospitals become the service of last resort and vulnerable older people needing care have nowhere else to go.
The outcome of the debate was depressingly predictable. Proposals put forward by minority groups in the council to mitigate some of the worst effects of the budget for the fire service and adult social care were all defeated by a callous Conservative majority.
A budget to be proud of? We don’t think so!
Margaret Guest, chairman, Don’t Cut Us Out
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