County coun­cil’s des­per­ate plea to gov­ern­ment as it faces £30m short­fall

West Sussex County Times - - Opinion - Cllr Paul Mar­shall

In the midst of a global pan­demic local au­thor­ity fi­nances might not be at the fore­front of our minds. But, the im­pact of this virus is far reach­ing and long last­ing. At West Sus­sex County Coun­cil our staff have worked tire­lessly in the re­sponse to this virus. We have set up whole new ser­vices with com­mu­nity hubs – di­rect sup­port for the most vul­ner­a­ble in our so­ci­ety - those who found them­selves early on un­able to get ac­cess to food or medicines. We con­tinue that sup­port now, mak­ing sure peo­ple have ac­cess to care, to es­sen­tial sup­plies and link­ing them in with other key ser­vices; men­tal health ser­vices, fi­nan­cial sup­port, or any other sup­port they might need.

Our pub­lic health re­spon­si­bil­ity has been to make sure we work with local part­ners, na­tional pub­lic health teams and cen­tral gov­ern­ment to mon­i­tor and re­main vig­i­lant to how the virus is spread­ing in the county, to act where we see cases ap­pear, be that in our care homes, our hos­pi­tals, or other sec­tions of our com­mu­ni­ties. We have been there to make sure peo­ple have the right in­for­ma­tion about how to in­ter­pret and fol­low gov­ern­ment guid­ance, to make sure we all do the right thing and help to keep each other safe.

And through­out this time we have con­tin­ued many of our vi­tal ser­vices, keep­ing vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and adults safe, sup­port­ing our schools, dis­pos­ing of waste, con­tin­u­ing to keep the roads run­ning and main­tained, con­tin­ued to carry out life­sav­ing work through our fire and res­cue ser­vice and much more be­sides. I am be­yond proud of the way we con­tinue to sup­port our res­i­dents.

How­ever, and it is an im­por­tant how­ever, we can­not con­tinue to prom­ise that. So far our mod­el­ling shows that just for this year; 2020/21 this pan­demic could cost our or­gan­i­sa­tion in the re­gion of £70m. Even with the £36.4m fund­ing we’ve had from Gov­ern­ment that’s still £33.6m more than we would have spent over the same pe­riod. Our mod­el­ling also shows that if there is a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic down­turn then the in­come taken from coun­cil tax would be less than ex­pected; mean­ing our ac­tual cost pres­sure would be around £85m. Be­yond this there are fur­ther costs pre­dicted in the longer term mean­ing we will be con­tin­u­ing to man­age the fi­nan­cial im­pact of this pan­demic for years to come.

We need to make sure that we con­tinue to be able to keep peo­ple safe and sup­ported, to be there when our econ­omy needs it most to help it thrive and grow again, to sup­port com­mu­ni­ties to pros­per af­ter what has been the most chal­leng­ing time of con­fine­ment and re­stric­tion. But I know we can’t do that with­out the re­sources and the means to do it. We need more money from cen­tral gov­ern­ment to be able to ful­fil our prom­ises and our duty to you.

We are lob­by­ing hard at Gov­ern­ment level to make sure local au­thor­i­ties re­ceive the right and fair fund­ing to be able to con­tinue to sup­port com­mu­ni­ties.

I know we have the full sup­port of our West Sus­sex MPs and have shared this chal­lenge with them. Our MPs know that un­less cen­tral Gov­ern­ment pro­vides more fund­ing to fill the gap we will have to pri­ori­tise our ser­vices and make steps to bal­ance our bud­gets. We are there for West Sus­sex, we are West Sus­sex.

County Hall, Chich­ester

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