Louise Goldsmith has recommended a further rise in council tax of one per cent — then warned vital services are at risk if the government does not take a long term view on local authority funding.
That’s according to West Sussex County Council leader Mrs Goldsmith after the tax rise was to help cope with the demand for core services.
Recommendations to take advantage of the extra one per cent as offered by government earlier this month were put to the council’s Performance and Finance Select Committee for scrutiny by councillors yesterday.
This would bring the council tax raise for West Sussex residents to 4.95 per cent – that’s the equivalent of an additional 12.6p per week for the average Band D council tax payer.
The committee endorsed the Medium Term Financial Strategy and draft revenue budget for 2018/19. The proposals will now be discussed by the county council’s cabinet on January 30 and voted on at the full council meeting on February 16.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “It could be easy to forget just how wide reaching the services we provide are. We are there for our residents from the day they are born until the day they die.
“We are the biggest provider of care, bar the hospitals, in the county. We keep our older people safe from harm and independent for longer, we keep children safe, in care and at home, we protect them and support them and we educate them.
“We are the fire and rescue service, keeping people safe in an emergency and preventing those emergencies in the first place. We are there to keep our county moving by keeping our roads running, our potholes filled.
“One way or another there is little part of life in West Sussex that we are not responsible for or involved in. None of this we do lightly. But we need to plan, we need to be able to continue to evolve and grow as the issues and demands change and we simply can’t do that with a short term view of our finances.
“It is wrong for us, and county councils across the country, to continue to have to be reliant on taxing our residents in the current piecemeal way every year to attempt to plug the gap left by central government.
“We have played our part well when government asked us to and taken more than 30 per cent out of our budget at exactly the same time as demand and need rises.
“It’s time that the Government supports us with a properly funded long term settlement that enables us to plan and prepare for the challenges we know are ahead and in particular to help our growing elderly population.
“We are not alone in West Sussex this is a national problem that deserves a national answer. I, and many other council leaders have been asking for years for a long term solution to local government finances.
“It is against all my instincts for me to consider taking the incredibly hard decision to raise council tax when I know some residents are struggling with their own finances but it would also be against my instincts for me not to offer the high quality services that our residents deserve.”
Mrs Goldsmith added that the decision would mean that vital services can continue to run and be developed “without us having to make extremely difficult decisions about the future of some those services we know our residents rely on.
“It would also mean we can move forward more quickly on key priorities as set out in our West Sussex Plan to support those people who are struggling and the most vulnerable in our society.
“This includes proposals to tackle homelessness in the county, working with our local authority partners to increase the amount of temporary accommodation available and improving the safety of our roads.
“Also, accelerating our programmes on solar energy, adding to the hardship fund we hold to help residents when they need it the most, developing a programme of volunteering in the county as well as developing our infrastructure locally and making sure we support our residents by developing their life chances.”