Sussex

East Sussex County Council seeks to save £5m to balance books

East Sussex County Council
Image caption In August the county council said it might only be able to offer services it is legally obliged to provide

A cash-strapped council has revealed plans to make savings of £5.1m to deliver a balanced budget in 2019-20.

East Sussex County Council said the savings were lower than first estimated after it received government funding to take care of things like social care.

In November, the Conservative-led authority announced it needed to save more than £45m by 2021-22.

Councillor David Elkin, lead member for resources, said estimates for the next two years still show a £21.2m deficit.

Cabinet members will discuss the proposals for service changes and funding, which will include decisions about spending £375m on vital services, on 22 January.

In its Core Offer document last year, the council set out a list of services it could provide as a "bare minimum".

Specific savings for the coming year still include an end to subsidies for people using meals-on-wheels services.

Mr Elkin said the products used for the service now on offer were totally different from 10 years ago, and the processes different, and it was all part of the "changing economy".

Analysis

By Ben Weisz, BBC Sussex political reporter

Less checking the standards in East Sussex's schools. No more discounts for people buying meals on wheels. £1m in extra parking charges.

The plans to save over £5m next year are far from painless.

But after an autumn of doom-mongering, it's not as scary as it could have been.

Remember, the council had set out a "bare minimum" core offer of services alongside financial forecasts which suggested much more stringent savings were needed - and not even the "bare minimum" was affordable.

How has Armageddon been delayed?

Well, quite a bit of last-minute, one-off money came in from government over the winter - for social care, SEND (special needs and disabilities) and new powers to keep more of the business rates raised in the county.

There'll also be £4m less from the day-to-day budget going into the pot of money that funds long-term infrastructure projects.

Much of the new money is a one-off.

And there's no knowing what might happen if central government has to reorganise its spending after Brexit.

In short, a lot of uncertainty hangs over the council's future finances.

And so Councillor David Elkin, who's kept a symbolic lemon for the duration of austerity, will be squeezing it for a few more years at least.

Funds will also be cut for stroke and dementia care from April, while it is hoped increases to parking charges will also help generate income.

Council tax could rise by 2.99%, the equivalent of 80p extra per week for the average Band D household in East Sussex.

Of the extra money received from central government as part of its Fair Funding Review, £4.4m will go towards adult and children's social care, and £1.1m for special educational needs.

Mr Elkin said: "We still have to make some difficult decisions to deliver a balanced budget in 2019-20 with a careful eye on our planning for the following two years, which will be a time of uncertainty and continued financial challenge.

"We know there's a real strain on many people in East Sussex and this additional money, and our own careful management, gives us the opportunity to minimise cuts to services and the impact on our residents next year."

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