IS EAST SUSSEX COUNCIL GOING BUST?

The BBC and newspapers have been full of the story that East Sussex County Council is about to be the second county council to have to do what Northampton has done and declare itself effectively bankrupt.

Is this true?

Well, no and yes.  An examination of the minutes of East Sussex County Council’s cabinet reveals that the story comes from the Chief Executive’s report to the cabinet of select councillors who control the council.  You can find it here. The report dates from June, which shows you that the journalists who picked it up at the beginning of August are not on the case.

A “CORE OFFER”

The council’s problems stem from the fact that there is an ageing population who need more services, government cuts in funding to councils, a reluctance to increase council tax even when the government allows it, and a fascination with road building, with over £50 million of council taxpayer’s money spent on the Bexhill relief road and £13 million allocated to the Newhaven Port relief road.

In the worst case scenario the Chief Executive reckons that there will be a £15 million plus financial deficit in the financial year 2019/10, nearly £34 million in 2020/21 and over £46 million in 2021/22

Faced with this the council intends to reduce its services over time to what it calls a “core offer”.  Broadly speaking what this means is “ If we don’t have a legal obligation to provide it we won’t”.  The details of this core are given at the end of this article,

The council will work over the Autumn to apply this level of service in its budget for the year 2019/10.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

You need to look carefully at the core offer to see what is missing.  Where, for example, is funding for any kind of music service or other school support service?  Where is support for socially essential bus services?  Where is advice about social security benefits?  You will no doubt find other missing things.

But the key fight will be about interpretation of the statutory duties of the council.  The council has to provide some sort of library service.  But is one library in each of the big towns with a limited supply of books enough?  Is the council meeting essential care needs if a person is left all night in soiled clothing until the morning?   Expect the council to push hard to minimise what it sees as its statutory duties.

Regrettably, we are short of the sort of expertise in the county to push back.  For example there is only one legal firm in the county with serious expertise in community care law, and they cannot give advice under the legal aid scheme.

MALADMINISTRATION

Aside from the obsession with road building and the reluctance to raise council tax when this has been possible, there is none of the gross financial mismanagement that characterised Northamptonshire.

SIGNS OF PANIC

But on the other hand, a sign of an organisation that is really in trouble is when it has to start reversing policies that it implemented only a short time before.  There are signs of the beginning of this in cases like the closure of Ringmer library shortly after it had been modernised.

AN AUTUMN OFFENSIVE

The council will launch a charm offensive from the autumn onwards to soften people up for these cuts.  Community activists should monitor carefully what the council is up to.

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CORE SERVICES IDENTIFIED BY EAST SUSSEX COUNTY COUNCIL

Highways

Provide sufficient maintenance to keep highways, footpaths, verges, street

lighting and traffic signals safe to use.

Community Services

Provide core archives and records services;

Provide a statutory trading standards service (e.g. inspections and sampling for high risk food, animal disease control and prosecutions and enforcement actions);

Provide a statutory Road Safety service: carry out studies into road accidents, and take measures to prevent such accidents; undertake Road Safety Audits on all internal highway improvement schemes;

provide a modern and sustainable Library and Information Service, based on current and future needs, and set up support for communities who wish provide a more local service;

Provide a Gypsy and Travellers service and maintain Bridies Tan transit site and the four permanent traveller sites in East Sussex;

Provide a core Emergency Planning service ; and Provide Registration Services.

Transport

Manage the National Concessionary Fares Scheme in East Sussex; and

Operate Civil Parking Enforcement where it has been implemented.

Economy

Act as a strategic authority that intervenes, in partnership, decisively and cost

effectively where it can make a difference, especially by levering in external funding.

Waste Disposal

Dispose of household waste collected by the borough and district councils

Provide a limited number of household waste disposal centres

Planning & Environment

Statutory Planning Service and Development Control service

Statutory Flood Risk Management

Statutory Strategic Transport Planning (including delivery of the Local Transport Plan)

Support to schools and pupils

Plan for the right number of school places in the right locations in the county

Administer a school admission process;

Commission and purchase Home to School Transport where there is a Statutory duty to do so;

Safeguard children and young people;

Manage referrals and undertake statutory assessments of children with special educational needs and commission suitable placements;

Monitor performance of all schools

Work with schools to support vulnerable pupils who are at risk of or have been

excluded or who are not attending; and

Ensure children who are being educated at home receive suitable provision.

Children’s Social Care

Provide care and support for children and young people where there is evidence that they have suffered significant harm or are at immediate risk of significant harm and provide an alternative home for children who are unable to live with their parents or in their extended family

Commission the health visiting service to undertake statutory checks and provide help and advice to parents

Provide key worker support for those families covered by the Government’s Troubled Family programme and payments

Arrange youth provision where others fund it but think we are best placed to deliver

Older people and working age adults

Assess and meet critical and substantial need and commission and deliver services that meet that need directly or through the independent and voluntary sectors;

Engage with t he market to ensure that they are aware of and can meet current and future need

Ensure a robust safeguarding system to protect vulnerable people. This will be delivered through: Health and Social Care Connect which allows people to report abuse or neglect; apply for care and support;and get support for a carer.

Locality Teams: multidisciplinary teams of professionals from health and social care. These can include nurses, therapists, social workers and proactive care practitioners to provide consistent care for local people

Joint Community Rehabilitation: occupational therapists, physiotherapists and

support workers to provide re-ablement and rehabilitation services which help people restore or minimise loss of function and maximise independence and/or wellbeing

Equipment and Technology to support independent living  

Supporting People where it provides a replacement for direct care

How we will work

Members will be supported to fulfil their role as the democratic voice of local people;

We will ill be open and transparent about what we do and the decisions we have made and provide information about how we run things

We will engage with local people and communities about their aspirations for the lives and respond to their feedback

We will give the best possible customer service.