‘Groundhog Day budget’ with £17m cuts approved

County Hall Lewes, East Sussex County Council HQ SUS-150925-134850001
County Hall Lewes, East Sussex County Council HQ SUS-150925-134850001

The Tory-led county council’s financial plans containing £17m of cuts have been criticised as a ‘Groundhog Day budget’ by Labour councillors.

The authority’s share of council tax is set to rise by 4.99 per cent in 2017/18, which includes three per cent for adult social care, equating to an extra £62.47 a year for a Band D property.

Amendments by both the Lib Dem and Labour groups were defeated by a combination of Tory and UKIP councillors at Lewes’ County Hall today (Tuesday February 7).

Michael Wincott (Lab, Hastings - Baird and Ore) labelled it a ‘Groundhog Day budget’ and described hearing the same speeches from the Conservative-led administration every year as ‘boring’.

He argued that consultations with groups about cuts was ‘false listening’, adding: “I could consult with my children about cutting their pocket money, it does not mean they want me to do it.”

David Elkin (Con, Eastbourne - Sovereign), lead member for resources, said: “Councillor Wincott is sort of right. There is something that happens here every year and that is every year we have been since July spending time, effort, and resources coming up with a sustainable budget.”

He argued the Tories had produced a balanced revenue and capital budget ‘that provides the best way of meeting the needs of residents and businesses in East Sussex’.

He continued: “We are setting a budget that is robust, and has an eye on the future, making sure decisions we take today will give us the best chance to meet the increasing challenges of tomorrow.”

However he continued to call for the Government to step in and find a national way of funding adult social care, as increasing council tax to plug gaps was ‘unfair and unsustainable’.

Both amendments aimed to reverse cuts in areas such as the East Sussex Better Together programme, social care, children’s services, and mental health services.

David Tutt (LDEm, Eastboune - St Anthony’s), leader of the Lib Dem group, said he did not envy the difficult choices the Conservative administration was having to wrestle with, but added: “There is little that can be cut without having a devastating effect on the communities we represent.”

Meanwhile Trevor Webb (Lab, Hastings - Central St. Leonards and Gensing), leader of the Labour group, expressed his commitment to protecting jobs and services and accused the Tory leadership of ‘kowtowing’ to backbenchers by announcing extra investment for drainage and pavements at the last minute.

But Philip Howson (UKIP, Peacehaven and Telscombe Towns), leader of the UKIP group, argued that ‘alternative budgets rarely get through’ and ‘waste’ officers’ time, suggested immigration was putting increasing strain on public services such as education and health, and claimed that pupils at one Eastbourne school spoke a combined 32 languages.

But John Ungar (LDem, Eastbourne - Old Town) argued in a post-Brexit world having pupils speaking a number of languages would be a strength, adding: “I do not agree with the xenophobes. I’m going to sit down now because it winds me up too much.”

Godfrey Daniel (Lab, Hastings - Braybrooke and Castle) added: “I have always thought you [Mr Howson] were a reasonably honest man mistakenly in the wrong party, but now I think you are in the right place.”

Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother), leader of the county council, said: “At the end of the day we have a choice. Is it a fully-costed thought out budged presented at least two weeks before or a couple of bits of paper that do not stack up presented this morning?”

The Labour amendment was defeated by 24 votes to nine with nine abstentions, while the Lib Dem proposal lost by 25 votes to 16 with one abstention.

The final budget was approved by 25 votes to 15 with two abstentions.

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