As you know, at West Sussex County Council we provide 80% of the public services to our residents and we do that 24/7 - we never close. Whether it is a child in need of protection, a frail elderly resident, a road traffic accident or a fire - we are there supporting and working with our communities. But we do not do this work alone. We work in partnership with other agencies and organisations to ensure we are doing the best for our residents and communities.
Part of our role as Councillors is to raise important issues and debate them during our County Council meetings – this is all part of our wonderful UK democracy and we have had some interesting debates this year.
In July we debated the benefits of our Fire and Rescue Service, which is unique as it is so embedded in the County Council and plays a major role in supporting and working with our communities across the county – with some terrific results, such as our Flood Action Groups which is seen as a national exemplar. This particular debate was in response to proposals which could see the Fire and Rescue Service being moved to the Police and Crime Commissioner. In some cases this could be the right option, but here in West Sussex it most certainly isn’t right for our residents and we believe that West Sussex Fire and Rescue is ‘Safer in our Hands’ – a feeling which came out very strongly in the debate.
Our Fire and Rescue Service have had another busy year. Just one example was the Selsey Academy fire which started early on a Sunday morning and quickly took control with a strong wind, devastating the building. Crews from across the county and Hampshire all helped out and once again it was a fine example of good collaborative working. Our Education Team were on hand and worked with the Academy to ensure that there was minimum disruption to pupils.
One campaign we are supporting as a council together with our MPs is for fairer funding for West Sussex schools who are almost at the bottom of the league when it comes to funding from the Government. Headteachers are running the ‘Worthless’ campaign. The Government announced this year that they would be changing the funding formula over the next few years but there is a need for transitional funding for our schools – £20 million in total. This would really help our cash-strapped schools.
August saw the one year anniversary of the Shoreham Air Disaster. We remembered with families, friends and relatives of the victims and held a minute’s silence on Shoreham Tollbridge. This was a moving event for everyone involved.
Scams can make life a misery for those people targeted, and our Trading Standards team have had a busy year cracking down on scams and protecting our residents from scammers. This team is very effective in making life safer for all our residents.
We work closely with our District and Borough Council colleagues and are very supportive of their ambitions for their areas. To that end we are developing District Deals – these are a joint working agreement to support their plans. The first was signed in December with Crawley Borough Council. Watch this space for more to come in 2017.
Often in life, we find it is the small things that count the most and I see our Meals on Wheels Service as one that really does support our elderly in their homes. Some authorities have moved away from providing this service but we are committed to supporting our elderly and this service really does that.
These are just some of the many services we provide and the momentous events in West Sussex this year.
I couldn’t end without mentioning the finances of the County Council – of course they are very tight and we are faced with difficult choices daily. But we continue to provide value for money services focusing on our Start of Life, Economy and Later Life priorities. Supporting our amazing communities and helping them to help themselves, and rest assured we are there in an emergency, these are our priorities.
So we look forward to 2017 and the challenges it will bring. My wish for 2017? May it be peaceful and harmonious and may it be kind to everyone.