Behind the headlines
This page is where we will regularly post background information
about some of the stories hitting the headlines.
It is the criticism and complaints that tend to get the media
coverage, and there are many organisations out there whose sole
purpose seems to be ‘council bashing’.
However, there are always ‘two sides to every story’, and we are
anxious to ensure that County Council policies and aspects of its
spending are not misrepresented.
The aim of this page is to help give residents a clearer picture
of what really lies behind the headlines.
It also designed to assist journalists many of whom may be
approaching a story about the County Council for the first time and
are relying for their background on inaccurate statements and
Statement to local media in response to claims by the Don’t Cut
Us Out campaign
A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said: "It is
disappointing that Don’t Cut Us Out has chosen both to mislead the
public about the scale of the budgetary problems being faced by
West Sussex County Council nor to outline the solutions we are
putting into place to still try to support the most vulnerable in
"We are responding to the Government’s determination to reduce
the national deficit, which has meant that local government is
having to reduce budgets.
"For us, this has involved making changes in the way we deliver
services, which will mean working more closely with our partners in
the health service to deliver a more integrated system that is also
more personalised towards the person.
"While it is true that West Sussex County Council removed a
subsidy in 2012 that had historically been issued to some, but not
all of the District and Borough Lifeline providers, we were faced
with a £2m cut in housing related support.
"We felt compelled to pass this on, however we agreed to delay
this reduction for eight months to allow them time to remodel their
provision of subsidised alarms.
"The Crawley Lifeline system supported relatively few people and
there was a waiting list of about two years. Crawley did have the
option of funding the service itself – or of subsidising those
customers affected by the withdrawal.
"Two years prior to this WSCC also introduced a system so we
could support more people using time-limited interventions.
"We spend £500,000 a year on funding new telecare units across
the county, which equates to 2,500 frail and elderly people a year
who receive a fully funded package for 13 weeks.
"The vast majority decide to retain the service at the end of
the free period. This also supports more people than Lifeline.
"The reference to "a County Council care home managed by the
private sector" is also wrong. The County Council never owned the
Orchid View care home, which at the time was owned by Southern
"DCUO have failed to understand council finance. It would take a
council tax rise of 8.6 per-cent a year for the next four years to
raise £141 million, while to reduce the cuts by 63% in order to
generate £112.1m would require a rise of seven per-cent every year
for four years.
"Both are way above the two per-cent level, which the government
insists will trigger a local referendum to agree the rise.
"They have also failed to appreciate that our reserves are
largely in place to meet existing commitments and to pay for
specific projects. This money cannot be used to run day to day
services without serious financial implications for the finances of
"Having a sound level of reserves has also allowed the council
to cope with unexpected emergencies such as the 2012 flooding which
allowed us to invest £8.5 million in Operation Watershed to pay for
vital drainage schemes and road repairs. Taxpayers would not thank
us if there was an emergency, and we had no money to cope with
"The Meals on Wheels contract with the Royal Voluntary Service
has always involved volunteers carrying out safe and well checks.
They were not being asked to take on tasks previously undertaken by
"Care services have never been "outsourced" to Bupa or Southern
Cross, though some of our residents are customers of Bupa’s
services and live in their care homes. WSCC transferred its care
homes to Shaw Healthcare 11 years ago to ensure best use of scarce
public funds. Southern Cross no longer exists as a going
"WSCC is not privatising social care. We need to make the best
use of public funds and will be commissioning more services from
the private sector, but we will also continue to provide adult
social care services. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about
buying services from the private sector.
"Adults’ Services will continue to be the biggest budget holder
in West Sussex County Council."
A local paper, which obtained staff sickness figures using
Freedom of Information, linked absence from work because of stress
to pothole levels. This report was completely inaccurate as
extracts from this letter sent to the paper by the Cabinet Member
responsible for HR issues explains.
"It is completely inaccurate to link the numbers of staff who
took sick leave for stress to potholes. There is no evidence to
support this, and the information has been taken out of
"The staff who took sickness absence related to stress (about 3%
of the total workforce) were from a variety of departments, the
majority of which have no connection to road maintenance or
potholes. This could have been made clear had your reporter
contacted the County Council and given it an opportunity to
"In addition, it should be noted that the category ‘stress’ is a
broad category and captures all types of stress-related illnesses
and does not necessarily indicate workplace stress, and can include
stress related to non-work issues.
"The County Council has in place robust policies for managing
sickness absence. Sickness is actively managed and monitored by
managers on a regular basis, and where necessary appropriate
actions will be taken."
Adult and Community Learning
A Twitter user recently posted that the Council had sold Adult
and Community Learning to the ‘lowest bidder’. This was totally
inaccurate. The service is now called Aspire Sussex Ltd and is a
staff run social enterprise which is to receive County Council
support over the next five years.
A local paper reported the County Council was forced to take
action after residents used social networking sites to express
anger over potholes. This was inaccurate. The County Council was
well aware of the pothole problem caused by the recent floods in
all areas of the county and has widely publicised the measures it
has been taking including putting on extra pothole patrols. It has
always actively encouraged residents to report potholes direct via
a smartphone app, phone or online so they can be prioritised and
Chichester Harbour Conservancy
A recent letter in some local papers stated that the County
Council’s Leader voted not to cut the Council’s annual grant to the
Conservancy. This was incorrect. The Conservancy, set-up by an Act
of Parliament, is a precepting authority and in a response said,
"As such we have the power to instruct another local authority to
collect an amount of council tax on our behalf in the same way that
police and parish towns work together."
Big Brother Watch
A recent report issued by this organisation led to alarming
national headlines such as ‘A Town Hall Spy On Every Corner’. It
involved the use by local authorities over the last 3 years of the
Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act (known as RIPA) approved by
West Sussex County Council responded in 2011
to a Freedom of Information Act request which showed that it had
used the powers just 6 times and all were in relation to
investigations by our Trading Standards department designed to
protect residents. These included requesting details that could
assist with an investigation into a ‘timeshare scam’ and cold
Recent publicity around the Blue Badge scheme has centred on the
time people have had to wait for a new or replacement Blue Badge.
This is because Government reforms to the application process,
which are designed to cut down on fraudulent use, require us to
assess a person’s mobility more thoroughly. These specialist staff
are in high demand and initially we could not recruit enough of
them. But due to the dedication of members of staff and the
recruitment of extra staff we hope to get back to more normal
service levels by the end of this summer. We apologise for any
Spend on consultants
The media likes to give the impression that this is all about
'men in suits' and 'management gurus'. In fact consultants is the
term used to record spending on all outside contractors. It
includes specialists needed for one-off projects - for example,
engineers to build bridges, architects to design buildings, or
developers to implement ICT programmes. It is often cheaper to
employ a short term 'consultant' rather than incur the cost of
recruiting and employing a full time member of staff. Spend on
outside contractors is carefully monitored and has reduced sharply
over the last 3 years.
Claims we have spent money on a 'YouTube' film unit are
nonsense. We started making videos 5 years ago to promote vital
public information and services. We 'publish' them on our website
and other video-hosting platforms like YouTube. Production
facilities have been funded by switching spend from traditional
media like print and events. They are also used to make staff
training and development films.
Chief Executive's bonus
Claims that the Chief Executive could be in line for a 20% bonus
this year are wrong. The Leader of the Council has made clear a
bonus of any amount would only be paid in the most exceptional of
circumstances and in such a difficult financial climate is
Dozens of 'Fat Cat' Council Executives earn more than the Prime
Comparing salaries of public servants with the Prime Minister is
flawed. David Cameron has chosen not to take the full salary to
which he is entitled (£198,660.) If you add in the value of his
accommodation (10 Downing Street and Chequers) plus other perks his
remuneration package is probably worth well over half a million
Taxpayers’ Alliance 'Rich List'
The Taxpayers’ Alliance table of 'Fat Cat' salaries publishes
data that is 2 years out of date. It also rolls together salaries
and employer's pension contributions and in some cases the
redundancy payments that are compensation for loss of office. As a
result many of the figures quoted have been vastly inflated. It is
worth stressing that redundancy payments are a cost associated with
reducing headcount and a short-term cost designed to lead to
Public sector employees are overpaid in comparison to the
The 2011 Hutton review of Fair Pay in the Public Sector stated:
"A quarter of the public believe that public sector executives are
currently paid more than their counterparts in private business,
while in fact executive pay in large listed companies far outstrips
that in even the largest and most complex of public bodies."
Cuts to services
Yes, of course there have been cuts to some services as the
County Council copes with having to save £79 million over 3
financial years but a large percentage of the savings are being
made from changes in the way we work and greater efficiencies. Here
are the facts the media overlooks about what is being done to
mitigate the impacts:
- Changes to the Eligibility Criteria for adult social
A difficult decision but one that brings us into
line with 82 percent of English authorities and we have followed
Department of Health guidance which states that if a local
authority raises the eligibility criteria it should ensure
preventative services are in place. There is a wide range of
support, information and advice in place.
- We are closing day care centres
We have moved away from multi-purpose day centres to
more specialist-focused provision for people with complex or longer
term needs. The change is needed because all the evidence shows
that people are living longer with complex conditions such as
dementia, while people with a lower level of needs can be supported
through services in the wider community. The new model provides 14
day centres - 8 provided directly by the County Council and 6 by
our partners Shaw Healthcare.
- Bus subsidies
Reducing the subsidy paid to commercial companies to run
loss-making services was again a difficult decision, but some
individual passenger journeys were costing as much as £15.00 in
subsidy. The review has shown that some formerly subsidised
services can be operated by bus companies with either a fare
increase or a reduced frequency. In the most recent decision on the
latest phase of reducing subsidies, the bus companies asked for and
were given more time to investigate if routes can continue
commercially. The Council has also worked closely with community
- Youth Services
Much of the publicity about this service has focused
on the potential closure of youth clubs and ignored the fact that
the service is being re-shaped so that scarce resources are
carefully targeted on the most vulnerable young people. The new
Youth Support and Development Service will still include youth
provision in areas of greatest need and the County Council is
working hard to support the development of community led services
in those areas where it is withdrawing. There are already 20 rural
areas with local schemes up and running and the deadline for
achieving savings has been extended to allow more time for other
groups to come forward.
‘Dossier of Shame’
The County Council has also responded in full to a recent
so-called ‘Dossier of Shame’ published by the ‘Don’t Cut Us Out’
Often inaccurately described as councillor’s pay. The allowances
scheme is national and is designed to ensure that people do not
suffer financially from time spent on local government duties. The
sums are recommended by an independent panel, which looks at what
the role entails. There is a basic allowance for all 71 West Sussex
councillors with a Special Responsibility allowance for councillors
such as the Leader of the Council and Cabinet Members to reflect
The County Council has frozen member’s allowances and expense
rates for the lifetime of this current council, which ends in May
The amounts claimed fell from £1,288,864 in 2009/10 to £1,278,775
in 2010/11 and in 2011/12 was £1,254,417.
You can find out about the work of County Councillors in a series
of films we have made in the run-up to the next elections in May
2013 by visiting the
video pages of our website.
The annual report letter that all local authorities receive from
the Ombudsman attracted media coverage. This is the full statement
that was issued –
"It is important to stress that there were no
findings of maladministration recorded against the authority and
that remedy payments following complaints fell from £31,013.70 the
year before to £12,364.60.
"We are continually working to improve our service to residents and
we always look closely at what lessons can be learned from
complaints and the Ombudsman's decisions. The vast majority of
complaints are however resolved by the Council without the
"The Ombudsman has said that the authority’s average response time
to complaints is faster than his target and is improved from the
"The six instances of delay and poor information that have been
cited must be seen in the context of literally thousands of
interactions that the County Council would deal with during the
course of a typical year.
"A report to the Council’s Standards Committee shows that for the
second year running the number of compliments (1005) about council
services exceeds complaints (639)."
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