Council tax rise on the cards despite cuts to children’s services and adult social care

SPENDING on adult social care and children’s services look set to be cut by seven per cent despite East Sussex County Council considering raising taxes for the first time in four years.

The local authority has to address a mammoth £110million in budget cuts before 2020 which started taking effect back in 2010.

In the four years since, county hall increased its section of Council Tax but councillors are considering ditching that policy as widespread belt-tightening looms large on the horizon.

According to details given to The Observer earlier this week, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has proposed a host of cuts to almost all of its departments. These include a seven per cent cut in both adult social care (down to £158.4million) and children’s services, which includes schools (down to £66.2million).

Elsewhere, the council’s community, economy and transport department – which includes roads and libraries – will suffer an eight per cent cut (down to £61.5million). Spending on business service will drop 12 per cent to £23.2million and governance service nine per cent to £7.2million.

The only department to see an increase in its budget under the plans for 2014-15 is public health, which would be afforded a modest three per cent rise to £24.4million.

Councillors will discuss the plans on Tuesday, with the council’s cabinet presented with three options regarding council tax – to either freeze payments or increase it by either 1.45 per cent or 1.95 per cent.

The extra money derived from any increase in 2014-15 - which would amount to 32p per week extra for a Band D property with a 1.45 per cent increase or 43p per week with a 1.95 per cent increase - would be used to protect frontline services.

A final decision will then be made at a planned full council meeting on February 11.

With widespread uncertainty over the amount of funding the council can expect beyond the next two financial years, the belief is an increase in council tax would give the authority greater control over its spending plans for the long term and potentially minimalise the level of cuts to essential services in future years.

However, the suggested budget is not all about cuts.

The proposed plan would see £45million of additional funding ploughed into the county’s roads infrastructure, a further £10million set aside for improving unclassified roads and £2.25million made available over three years for fixing potholes.

The additional funding would allow potholes to be repaired more quickly and 42 miles of unclassified roads to be improved – the equivalent of the distance from one end of the county to the other.

If given the green ticket, the 2014-15 budget would see the council spend at least £369million on services, compared to £380 million in the 2013-14 budget.

Meanwhile, over the next four years, a further £339million would be invested in long-term projects aimed at creating jobs, funding school places, improving broadband capacity and improvements to libraries.