Friday, 20 December 2013

A Merry Christmas to all

All in all it has been quite a week one way and another.

On Monday I met with Paul Cobbing, Chief Executive of the National Flood Forum. We have been working closely with the Forum over the last year, and my meeting came as a result of talking with Paul in October at the Flood Event we held in Littlehampton together with partners.

The National Flood Forum provides a wide range of useful information about flooding. This time last year we had serious flooding in West Sussex and I know many residents found their website had very helpful information. If you’d like to find out more, there is lots of useful information on flooding on the County Council website as well.

Working with partners like the National Flood Forum is key to helping our residents, and the meeting was extremely useful.

This week also saw the announcement by the Airports Commission on airport expansion, where Gatwick Airport has been given the opportunity to go forward with their expansion plans to the next phase.

Whilst we welcome this news as it would be a boost to the economy, we do know that some residents, particularly those who will be directly affected, are not at all pleased. The County Council's position is to support expansion, but we need to ensure the environmental impacts are minimised and we must address the surface access issues. This leads me onto my meeting with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on Thursday morning where, together with the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, we had a productive and useful meeting with officials to discuss these issues along with A27 improvements.

Next week is Christmas week. The County Council does not close down but runs over the holiday period, the Emergency Management Team are on stand-by, along with teams helping and protecting children as well as adults, and throughout that time services will continue to be delivered.

Our road gritters are also on standby if the weather gets colder, and our waste recycling team have 12 days of Christmas tips for dealing with the waste that is generated at this time of year.

So may I wish you all a very peaceful and happy Christmas and may 2014 be kind to you.

Best wishes,
Louise

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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The difficult choices we face as a County Council

The past two weeks have been particularly busy in the run up to County Council last Friday, where we presented the schedule of the £61 million pounds of savings we need to find over the next two years.

That figure forms part of the total £141 million savings that we need to find over the next four years. This is an extremely big ask for all concerned at the County Council, particularly when we are just at the end of the £79 million savings which we announced three years ago and have successfully found. And here we now are starting out once again.

In January each of the County Council’s Select Committees will have the opportunity to scrutinise, question and make comments on the proposed savings. The final schedule, taking into account comments made and any further amendments, will come before the County Council on Friday 14 February for debate and final agreement.

There have been a few suggestions that the County Council could raise council tax instead of making further savings. But in order not to make the £141 million savings that we need, we would have to increase council tax by 8.6% each year for the next four years. At a time when salaries are not increasing and with the costs of food and heating going up and other increases in the pipeline, this would put many household budgets under severe strain. I don’t think that is fair on our residents, which is why we are working hard to establish where the savings can be made at the County Council rather than putting the burden on our residents.

Nobody relishes this task, but as County Councillors we have duties and responsibilities – which means making very difficult choices and decisions. Avoiding them or using our capital to put off the time to act would be seriously detrimental to the County Council and could have a big impact on the services we deliver.

But is there no Christmas cheer from the county Council? Well there is some based on our capital expenditure.

Firstly we have announced a multi-million (in the region of £30 million) investment in our unclassified roads over the next two years. These are minor roads which, particularly in rural areas, are often used as rat runs, but will also include streets in residential and town areas – and form about 55% in total of our highways network in the county.

This autumn we made the decision to set up the Sussex Energy Partnership, which will help to offset some of those energy increases in homes that need improvements and will help some residents who are in fuel poverty.

We've also secured a £30 million investment package for schools in the Worthing area - a £20 million government grant and £10 million of County Council funds. This will see the creation of a brand new £13 million secondary school and hundreds of additional school places to cope with a growing population. It could also see a change in the age at which children transfer to secondary school.

So while there are extremely tough decisions to be made, I am pleased to say that as a Council we are still able to invest in key areas and this is largely thanks to the prudent financial management we have been able to follow over the years.

Best wishes,
Louise

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