County council delays Early Help cuts in light of one-off funding

East Sussex council leaders have agreed to hold off on cuts to Early Help family key workers in light of one-off money from the Government, writes Local Democracy Reporter Huw Oxburgh. 

Friday, 15th November 2019, 12:00 pm
East Sussex County Council

On Tuesday (November 12), East Sussex County Council’s cabinet agreed to delay cutting the budget for Early Help family key workers by £981,000 should one-off grant funding  for adult social care come forward as announced in the Chancellor’s spending review in September.

According to council reports, the decision would allow the authority to recruit key workers to posts that have previously been held vacant in an effort to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Other cuts could also be delayed in light of the additional funding, although  any of these individual proposals are to go through the council’s scrutiny process.

Despite this,  cabinet members also agreed for financial planning to proceed on the basis that the council would charge an adult social care precept, on top of its normal council tax bill.

Introducing the proposals, the council’s lead member for finance Nick Bennett said: “We very much welcome the funding announced for broader social care, which we estimate to be £22m for East Sussex, but we must note that is only for this year.

“Cabinet is asked to approve that planning continues with the assumption that the additional two per cent adult social care precept will be approved by the full council in setting the budget in February.

“We can’t of course ignore the 12th of December [election], but our planning assumptions will continue on the basis of current announcements.”

Cllr Bennett also warned that as the funding was one-off, it could not change the savings laid out in the council’s medium-term financial plan – which currently predicts the council running a £25.4m deficit by 2022/23.

Even if the one-off funding becomes permanent  the authority would still face a deficit of more than £10m over this period, council papers say.

However, Cllr Bennett said, the council will be looking at whether the one-off funding can be used to reduce the amount to be cut or invested in other areas. These spending proposals are to go through the council’s scrutiny committees, he said.

Opposition councillors, however, raised some concerns around the long-term future for council services.

Liberal Democrat group leader David Tutt said: “It is good, as Cllr Bennett says, to get some additional monies, but let none of us lose sight of the fact these are one-off monies. 

“Despite the one-off monies there is still, as we all know, a big cumulative deficit for the county going forward. 

“None of us are going to have missed we are in a general election period and that we will hear promises coming out from national politicians … about the need to restore funds to national areas of expenditure, which have been starved of money in recent years.

“What I haven’t yet been hearing is politicians at national level committing to restoring the monies to local government. We’ve suffered, as local government, more severely than … any national government department.”

In light of the additional funding however, Cllr Tutt also called on cabinet members to consider delaying the closure of 14 children’s centres around the county until the national picture on funding became clearer.

Similar concerns were raised by Labour group co-leader Trevor Webb, who agreed the council’s political groups should continue with cross-party efforts to lobby government for “sustainable funding”.

He also welcomed proposals to delay cuts to the Early Years key workers.

Criticisms were also raised over delays to a long-awaited report on how Government intends to fund and run adult social care in future – known as the Adult Social Care Green Paper.

Cllr John Ungar (Lib Dem, Eastbourne Old Town) said: “One of the things I think that is missing here is that in order to look at the longer term  … we need to have some guidance. Unfortunately we haven’t got that Green Paper. Yet again it has been delayed and delayed and delayed.

“The Green Paper would help officers and planners and politicians here in East Sussex to look at how we are able to manage care in a reasonable way that benefits all.”

Council leader Keith Glazier (Con), however, had a different view. He said: “We all are awaiting the green paper with anticipation, but let’s be very clear; the work officers in this council have done are on statements made much, much earlier in the year, before there was any sign of an election. 

“I think whilst we are right to be concerned about it being one-off and we are right to be concerned that it won’t cover all the things we want it to, we should not be churlish and accept that this is the first time … we are here talking about not making cuts but making alterations as a positive.

“Who knows where we will be after this election but I just think that the work the officers have done, on the information they have got, leaves us in a very good place with some positive decisions to make, as opposed to negative.”

The decision was made as part of the Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources (RPPR) process, which sets out the council’s long-term plans ahead of the annual budget-setting.