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East Sussex County Council cuts services to 'legal minimum'

August 10, 2018 9:36 AM

Could town become a Unitary Authority
Eastbourne Herald 10/8/2017

It was recently revealed that East Sussex County Council are preparing to become the second Conservative-run council, after Northamptonshire County Council, to set out plans to strip back services to the "legal minimum" as they look at a worst-case scenario deficit budget position by 2021/22 of £46.4m. This is very worrying news and I am bound to ask just how our services locally could be cut even more bare, than the proposed closure of Firwood House and the long list of other cuts ESCC recently announced.

Consequently I had a long chat with my colleague , David Tutt, Leader of Eastbourne Council, earlier in the week about the County Council's plans and how, in contrast, our Borough Council had managed to deal with similar cuts in central government funding without having to take the same sort of drastic action as County Hall. David reminded me that in Eastbourne we've been facing the challenge proactively for some time now rather than avoiding taking any action until the last minute. And in that period building up income-generation programmes, significantly reducing staffing and management costs and leading the charge locally on setting up joint working arrangements between other councils. All this over the last, at least, seven years! He also reminded me the Lib Dem group on the County Council recently presented an alternative budget to County Hall, which would have reduced the need to cut resources by £7m and could have ensured many key services were maintained. To his surprise and disappointment though, the County Council rejected the proposals out of hand.

This is a dire situation for provision across our town and the whole of East Sussex, and we are seeing the human consequences every day now. East Sussex County Council by failing to take the necessary, bold steps years ago which have been done in Eastbourne, are now totally dependent on central government grants to bail them out or to savage local services, in exactly the same way as Northamptonshire. My response to the ESCC conservatives are two-fold; firstly, shame on you for your lack of preparedness, and secondly, if a Tory County Council can't get the money needed from a Tory government, what's the point of you?

Their priorities are also all wrong. With sixteen county council officers earning over £100,000 per annum, and a council leader who only recently jacked up his remuneration by 37%, Not a good look! Meanwhile the most vulnerable in our communities are suffering; in my opinion it's time for the whole Cabinet to consider their position.

Equally something for us all to consider now is an idea which David and I have been mulling over for a decade; and that is if we can't trust East Sussex County Council to run their affairs properly which we clearly cannot, perhaps it's time for Eastbourne to seriously debate pushing to become a Unitary Authority? So the success we've achieved in our town - maintaining frontline services and streamlining our staffing rolls whilst generating significant income growth - can be replicated across the range of services ESCC are regulated to deliver for Eastbourne but, manifestly, are failing to do so. I am putting this proposition on the table to the readers of the Herald. What do you think?

Meanwhile you will know how for the last ten years I've been campaigning on behalf of local resident Gillian McKenzie, and other families, on the issue of the horrendous goings-on at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital, and the subsequent Independent Panel which led to the Report of Bishop James Jones. Some of you will have read in the news very recently that a police investigation is now underway, led by Assistant Chief Constable Nick Downing, head of serious crime at Kent and Essex Police. This is a welcome move because Mrs McKenzie, other relatives, nurses and whistle-blowers have been ignored by the relevant authorities for a long time and it was crucial, for the sake of justice, that the same thing didn't happen to the Bishop's Report. It's not the first time the case has been referred to the police but, sadly, the previous investigations were deeply flawed. Three police probes by Hampshire Police failed to bring any criminal charges on the past, and yet we now know that at least 450 people died and perhaps as many as 600. All attributed to the 'inappropriate prescribing of diamorphine at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital' under the supervision of Dr Jane Barton.

I've been pressing hard in Parliament ever since the Report came out the government must implement a criminal enquiry, so I am glad this has now started. The relatives had to wait many years to hear the awful truth of what happened at Gosport Royal Infirmary. I hope they will now get the justice they deserve, and that those who perpetrated this horror have to face up to the consequences of their actions in Court.

It was a pleasure to drop into Sussex Downs College earlier this week to meet and listen to a bunch of our young people who are all taking part in this year's NCS programme. It stands for the National Citizenship Service and takes place across the country every summer, bringing students together from a whole range of different backgrounds and schools. To learn how to work in partnership, to practice new skills and ultimately to undertake a series of social enterprise initiatives for the benefit of others. A truly laudable concept, and they were a genuinely impressive bunch of teenagers. Broad mix of schools from across the constituency aged between 16 - 17 years. It was great to meet them all.

That's it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.

East Sussex County Council cuts services to 'legal minimum'

A second Conservative-run council, after Northamptonshire County Council, has set out plans to strip back services to " the core" amid calls for talks with central government. ESCC said it was looking at a worst-case scenario deficit budget position by 2021/22 of £46.4m.

ESCC's chief executive, Becky Shaw, said: "Our core offer paints an honest picture of the minimum that we realistically need to provide in the future and we want to use this as the basis for discussion with the government."

The County Council Cabinet members, who looked at the "core offer" in July, agreed the plan would be costed and developed over the summer, with more detailed proposals to be considered in the autumn ahead of budget meetings in February 2019.

Opposition Leader, Lib Dem, Cllr David Tutt said:

"This utterly deplorable situation has also come about because the Conservative controlling group have failed to take any of the necessary preparatory steps to deal with this funding crisis. All local authorities have seen a sharp reduction in government grants over the last few years but unlike in Eastbourne where we've been facing the challenge head on for some time now and, as a consequence, built up our income-generation programmes and significantly reduced costs with only minimal cuts. County Conservatives have just buried their heads in the sand until it's too late. They have adopted a slash and burn approach to their finances and services. This has meant savage cuts to services such as closing Firwood House, cuts to our libraries, cuts to the voluntary sector, children's and adult social services, Music Services and vital provision to vulnerable people as provided by excellent local organisations such as Home Works. The list of draconian service cuts goes on and on."

He added:

"Furthermore, when the Liberal Democrats recently presented an alternative budget, which would have reduced the need to cut by £7m and ensured many key services could be maintained, the Tories rejected our proposals out of hand. Residents across East Sussex are now suffering as a result of their total incompetence and lack of preparation."

Stephen Lloyd MP went on to say:

"This is an utterly dire situation for services across our town and East Sussex. County Hall has totally failed to take the necessary steps which we've done in Eastbourne over the last few years so they're now totally dependent on central government to bail them, and us, out of the hole they've dug for themselves. Bluntly if a Tory County Council can't get the money needed from a Tory government, what's the point of them?"

"Their priorities are all wrong. With sixteen council officers earning over £100,000 per annum, and a council leader who only recently jacked up his remuneration by 37% I am bound to conclude they've brought this disaster onto themselves. Meanwhile the most vulnerable are suffering. It's time for the whole Cabinet, frankly, to consider their position."

Cllr David Tutt added:

"If East Sussex County Council can't run their affairs properly perhaps it's time for Eastbourne to seriously consider pushing to become a Unitary Authority, so that the success we've achieved in our town - maintaining frontline services whilst generating considerable income growth - can be replicated across the range of services which ESCC are supposed to deliver for Eastbourne but obviously failing to do so."