Budget proposals setting out where millions of pounds of cuts will fall at East Sussex County Council ‘do not show enough humanity’, one Lib Dem has suggested.
Due to reductions in funding from central Government the authority is facing a £70m deficit over the next three years, and still has to make a number of cuts alongside a proposed 3.99 per cent increase in its council tax precept from April.
The Tory Cabinet approved revenue budget estimates for 2016/17 today (Tuesday January 26), but the Lib Dem group presented its own version of the budget, something leader Keith Glazier said they would look carefully at before the budget meeting in February.
David Elkin (Con, Eastbourne - Sovereign), deputy leader and lead member for resources, described their plans for a ‘sustainable budget with building blocks to see us through the next three years’, but he acknowledged the process had been ‘probably the most difficult and challenging ever’ for the council.
He added: “It gives residents, businesses and partners a sustainable service over a period of significant change and uncertainty.”
David Tutt (LDem, Eastbourne - St Anthony’s), leader of the Lib Dem group at ESCC, said there were ‘no easy solutions’, but there were some areas that the Lib Dems thought were higher priorities, such as voluntary sector grants, support for mental health, provision for adoption and foster care, sheltered housing, and extra care schemes.
Mr Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother) said they would look carefully at Lib Dem proposals in the next few weeks.
Some of the Tory administration proposals include stopping on-site support services within sheltered housing schemes, an end to funding for a number of voluntary organisations, and ceasing ESCC-run open access provision at children’s centres.
Roy Galley (Con, Buxted and Maresfield) said: “The focus of the debate should not be about inputs but outputs. What is the quality of service we are giving to our clients, customers and residents?”
John Ungar (LDem, Eastbourne - Old Town) felt the current budget proposals ‘do not show enough humanity’ and described being ‘saddened’ at the possibility that cuts could have an effect on loneliness and social isolation across the county.
Bill Bentley (Con, Hailsham and Herstmonceux), lead member for adult social care, said it was a ‘simple balance’ as they could only spend the amount of money that had coming in as an authority.
Carl Maynard (Con, Brede Valley and Marsham), lead member for transport and environment, added: “It’s not an option to tinker at the sidelines.
“These are big figures, these are big cuts across all the services this council provides.”
But he felt the proposals kept an eye on the future and was the ‘best possible budget for the residents of East Sussex’.
John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) suggested some councillors were ‘living in a parallel universe’. He said they were facing ‘enormous uncertainty’, but felt it was ‘useless’ to blame central Government.
However all six political leaders at the council united to sign a letter to the Prime Minister voicing ‘significant concerns’ over Government funding cuts to local authorities earlier this month.
Chief executive Becky Shaw explained that although proposals had balanced the revenue budget for 2016/17, they would still need to find around £10m for 2017/18 on top of savings already identified.
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