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The Conservative county budget gets signed off

A Conservative budget at West Sussex County Council has been signed off for 2020/21 after Lib Dem and Labour amendments were defeated.


The local authority’s share of council tax is set to rise by 3.99 per cent, the equivalent of an extra £55.17 for a Band D property.


As well as cutting millions of pounds in several areas, the county council is proposing extra spending in the areas of children’s services, adult social care and fire and rescue.


Cllr Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, said: “It’s a robust budget this Conservative administration can be proud of. Despite the challenges we face, it continues to deliver the services that residents expect from us.”


He added: “I’m sure there will be many potholes on the road ahead but we already have seen clear signs that we are heading in the right direction.”


He explained that despite making £18m of savings in 2020/21 they were still facing an estimated £45million funding gap over the next three years. They, alongside other local authorities, are awaiting results of the Government’s funding review.


Both Lib Dem and Labour budget amendments called for the reversal of a £100,000 cut to the local assistance network and a £100,000 cut to the  post 16 support service for young people not in education, employment or training.


The Lib Dems also proposed two extra posts to accelerate progress to tackle climate change and two additional roles to explore opportunities for improvements in sustainable travel.


Meanwhile, Labour also wanted to reduce cuts to library opening hours, pilot Sunday opening hours at Crawley and Burgess Hill libraries, fund an extra post to increase participation with the home library direct and digital library plus services, reinstate the previous levels of urban grass cutting, additional resources to repair road signs and refreshing line painting, more therapist time to support children of alcohol-dependent parents, employ a climate change lead officer and fund work to boost the night-time economy in town centres.


Both defeated amendments proposed significant cuts to the county council’s communications team.


Cllr Dr James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group, suggested the presentation of the Tory budgets was getting ‘rosier every year, but for the majority of residents it’s getting worse year on year’.


He suggested any Tory claim of financial prudence had a ‘hole blown right through it’, pointing to the extra money ploughed into failing children’s services and fire and rescue, the £4million settlement paid to unsuccessful highways contract bidder Amey, and the recent alleged £265,000 financial settlement paid to outgoing chief executive Nathan Elvery.


Cllr Walsh criticised the state of the county’s roads, with some potholes ‘as large as kitchen sinks’, described how homelessness grants were being ‘virutally abolished’ and flytipping was on the rise in West Sussex.


He said: “Residents and taxpayers are being asked to pay an ever-increasing amount of council tax for ever worsening services.”


The opposition parties’ plans to reduce the communications budget was criticised by Cllr Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for economy and corporate resources, who suggested a cut of that magnitude would have a significant impact.

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