A Government financial offer to East Sussex County Council has been labelled ‘blackmail’ by one Labour councillor.
The authority’s cabinet agreed to accept the four-year settlement on the table, but is also due to lobby ministers on the effect existing and future cuts will have on the residents of East Sussex.
The county council needs to trim another £6.5 million from its budget in 2017/18, on top of £17.3m cuts already identified earlier this year.
During a debate by all councillors on Tuesday (October 18) before the cabinet meeting, John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) put forward a motion to accept the four-year settlement, which was amended by Alan Shuttleworth (LDem, Eastbourne - Langney) to reaffirm the authority’s concern about the impact of cuts required to balance its budget.
Cllr Barnes explained that whatever anyone thought of Brexit leaving the EU would cause ‘considerable turbulence’ and they should not expect austerity to be relaxed easily.
But Godfrey Daniel (Lab, Hastings - Braybrooke and Castle) argued the multi-year settlement for the Government ‘constitutes blackmail’.
He explained: “It’s a Government threatening you, if you do not take this it’s going to get worse.”
He added: “If you vote for that amendment what you are doing is you are applauding the financial spiral of death for local public services.
“Are we going to be wiling participants in that fate?”
Kathryn Field (LDem, Battle and Crowhurst), deputy leader of the Lib Dem group, added: “I think it’s asking too much and I think it’s a very shoddy deal that’s being proposed.”
Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother), leader of the council, replied: “This is a serious issue for the people of East Sussex. We are looking at putting some certainty in our budget planning in a very uncertain world.”
He urged other parties to engage and not criticise the process, which was about ‘serving the people of East Sussex, not grandstanding’.
Meanwhile Kim Forward (Lab, Hastings - Maze Hill and West St Leonards) called the cuts, which she said would damaging the lives of the most vulnerable people, ‘absolutely shameful’, while John Ungar (Ldem, Eastbourne - Old Town) felt the fresh cuts being proposed would have ‘appalling’ consequences.
Michael Phillips (UKIP, Bexhill King Offa) said everyone ‘deplored’ the cuts but any Government would have to do the same, and pointed the finger at the ‘annual tribute paid to the EU’.
He added: “That’s what vassal states have to do, there’s no use smirking.”
David Tutt (LDem, Eastbourne - St Anthony’s), leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “I think it’s a terrible settlement and it stinks. I think we should be explaining in the letter Councillor Glazier is going to send just exactly why we think it stinks.
“But to turn that offer down is a gamble I do not think we can take on behalf of the residents of East Sussex.”
David Elkin (Con, Eastbourne - Sovereign), leader member for resources, said: “I said in cabinet this was a starter for ten. These proposals are a starter for ten. This is where we are at the moment.”
According to the chairman, the substantive motion was approved by 26 votes to 11.
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