WEST SUSSEX County Council’s decision to cut millions from housing-related support over the next two years has been branded ‘immoral’.
The service helps to fund homelessness charities such as Chichester-based Stonepillow and Bognor Housing Trust – and the council has been warned that cutting money would make the county ‘less safe’ and lead to an increase in deaths among rough sleepers.
The decision to reduce the £6.3m budget to £4.6m in 2019/20 and then to £2.3m in 2020/21 was defended by leader Cllr Louise Goldsmith, pictured above left, and Cllr Amanda Jupp, cabinet member for adults and health, at a meeting of the full council on Friday.
But Cllr Francis Oppler (Lib Dem, Bognor Regis E), pictured above right, said: “This council is choosing to make this particular cut of £4m from supported housing.
“It’s not being forced upon us – it is a choice. The decision for me is just immoral.”
Both Cllr Mrs Goldsmith and Cllr Mrs Jupp reminded members the county was not the housing authority – with that duty falling to the districts and boroughs.
Pointing colleagues to the new Homelessness Reduction Act, Cllr Mrs Jupp said the districts and boroughs ‘cannot get away from their responsibilities’.
She added: “But we have always pledged to help and support whatever they want to do and as we move forward, because we recognise that we have a responsibility to that vulnerable group of people.”
She told the meeting some of the contracts involved had not been fit for purpose and it was the right time to review them.
The council had set aside £750k to help the charities cope during the transition to the new arrangements – though each would have to bid for a share.
She also announced that West Sussex had successfully bid for a share of the government’s rapid rehousing pathway funding, and should receive around £336,000.
Added to the £750,000, that made just under £1.1m to ‘help support those housing charities to ensure we change and move forward so we all play that important role to help the homeless and help them off the streets’.
Cllr Mrs Goldsmith told the meeting this year’s budget had been the ‘hardest yet’ to set. She added: “There’s no more give in the financial envelope.
It’s like maintaining a neighbour’s garden. It’s a nice thing to do, keeps everything ship-shape and helps the relationship.
But when your income reduces and you have no cash to spare, despite best intentions you have to reduce or stop helping.
“And there’s the rub – no one likes it.
This is the case with the supported housing decision, which I know has been the hardest for all.”
Cllr Oppler said it was a ‘fantasy’ the districts and boroughs would be able to ‘pick up the baton’.
He added: “All of them are in financial difficulties of their own and do not have the infrastructure to be able to cope and deliver this service.
Report by Karen Dunn, local democracy reporter