West Sussex County Council has unveiled plans to safeguard critical frontline services despite facing a £44.5m shortfall in funding next year.
The council’s budget for 2016/17 will be set at £529m but a worse than expected grant from Government and an ever increasing demand for services leaves West Sussex facing a £44.5m black hole in funding.
More than £11m already set aside from extra savings made in previous years will help plug the funding gap but from April a further £18.7m worth of savings will need to be made.
To bridge the remaining gap, for the first time in six years, West Sussex councillors will also be asked to support a rise in council tax of 3.95 per cent – the equivalent of an extra £45.90 on the annual bill of an average property (Band D).
If agreed at Full Council on February 19, the increase will be introduced to bills from April. The charge – which works out at an extra 88p per week – will be levied on West Sussex’s part of the council tax bill (called the precept) and will raise an extra £14.6m a year.
The £14.6m raised in council tax, combined with £18.7m worth of savings planned for next year and over £11m of savings already delivered will bridge the shortfall.
With West Sussex delivering around 80 per cent of all public services, this will make a major contribution in protecting the most important frontline services.
West Sussex County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith said: “This will be an extremely challenging year for us. Our Government grant has been cut by over 20 per cent – this is much worse than the national average and far more than we had expected.
“However our prudence in the past has paid off and we are able to use £11m of previous savings to help plug the budget shortfall while we continue to make the necessary savings next year.
“We are determined to protect the services that matter most to West Sussex residents - giving children the best start in life, boosting the West Sussex economy and helping people live independently for longer in later life.
“In order to do this we have no choice but to raise council tax for the first time in six years. Without this raise we would be facing severe cuts in critical frontline services.”
The council tax increase includes the two per cent charge announced by Chancellor George Osborne to help councils meet the demands of supporting an increasingly ageing population.
From April all workers over the age of 25 will be paid a minimum of £7.20 an hour, rising to £9 an hour by 2020. This will add an extra £9m annually to West Sussex’s budget.
It comes at the same time as the county faces growing pressure on its adult social care budget from a sharp rise in the number of vulnerable elderly people needing care.
Over the next four years an extra 1,000 elderly people will need additional support, many with complex health needs.
An extra £8.3m has been set aside next year to help meet the ever increasing demands on adult social care budget, on top of an extra £5m set aside this financial year.
West Sussex County Council is already working with partners on longer term plans to develop extra care facilities, better dementia care and improved residential services for adult social care.
An extra £0.3m is set aside for the Social Care Academy which will train the next generation of care workers for West Sussex County Council.
Alongside the increasing complexity of adult social care cases, West Sussex is also facing increasingly complex cases of children being looked after in care.
An extra £4.3m has been set aside to help the most vulnerable youngsters and a further £200,000 will be used to strengthen West Sussex’s work to protect children at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.
The Troubled Families programme, known locally as Think Family, is also being safeguarded with £1.7m from reserves to ensure that 4,000 families get the support they need to turn their lives around by 2020.
However, to help meet savings of up to £18.7m next year the council is continuing to review ways to improve efficiencies and build on partnership working.
Louise Goldsmith said: “We will leave no stone unturned in improving the way we work, in driving out waste and getting even more value for money to ensure our critical frontline services are protected.”