On Tuesday February 7th the Tory-led and UKIP-supported East Sussex County Council passed a budget that included both a 4.99% increase in council tax rate and a £17 million package of cuts in 2017/18 and then another £21.5m in 2018/19 which will further damage local services and lead to a loss of an estimated 200-250 council jobs.
The Tory budget was opposed by the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups on the council who each put forward their own amended budget to reduce and restore some of these cuts - and both of which were predictably defeated by their Tories and their UKIP and Independent allies.
The Labour amendment moved by Cllr Trevor Webb was supported by 9 councillors: the 6 Labour councillors present, one of the only two - out of six - UKIP councillors (Ian Buchanan) who turned up for the meeting and 2 Independent councillors (Ruth O'Keefe from Lewes and Stephen Shing from Willingdon).
Our amendment was opposed by all 21 Conservatives, the only other UKIP councillor present (Philip Howson - who distinguished himself in the debate by a lengthy denunciation of the immigrants who are apparently to blame for the budget crisis) and both of the Independent councillors from Bexhill (Stuart Earl and Charles Clark) - while the 9 Lib Dems present all abstained.
The Lib Dem amendment which was rather more modest in reducing cuts than the Labour one was supported by the 9 Lib Dems, by all 6 Labour councillors and Independent Cllr O'Keefe - and was again voted down by all 21 Tories plus both UKIPers and the two Bexhill Independents.
The Tory budget was then passed by 25 votes to 15 - the 25 being again the 21 Tories, both UKIPers (although Cllr Buchanan had earlier voted with Labour on their amendment when it came to the last hurdle he for some unfathomable reason sided with the Tories) and both of the Bexhill Independents.
So on top of all cuts made in previous years another £38.5m is to be cut from East Sussex services over the next two years.
But it was not the Tories (who only have 21 seats of the 49 and are thus a minority administration) alone who made this possible, but also the UKIP councillors who either voted with them or just didn't turn up at all - and the two Independents from Bexhill Stuart Earl and Charles Clark who voted yet again with the Tories.
The full 18 page list of cuts is detailed at https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=12765 and includes:
- £1.3 million to be taken from adult social care services for carer support, services for the homeless and at risk of homelessness and substance misuse programmes
- £655,000 cut from older people day services and support for people with learning disabilities living in the community
- £17.3m cut from ESCC's contribution to the East Sussex Better Together programme which will have major impacts on adult social care
- £2.9m in savings from merging services with Surrey - which will cost jobs at both councils and further diminish direct democratic accountability for service delivery.
- £8.7m cut from a wide range of children's services
- £3.2m cut from communities and transport budget mainly impacting our libraries.
The impact of these cuts - mostly driven as even East Sussex Tories will admit by ever greater reductions in the grants to local councils made by over the last 7 years by David Cameron's and Theresa May's governments - will be very significant and will fall by definition on the most vulnerable members of our community.
On May 4th East Sussex county council elections are held where we can respond by voting against the Tories, their UKIP allies and those Independent councillors like Stuart Earl and Charles Clark who side with the Tories when it comes to cutting vital local services - and we will do everything we can to ensure Labour candidates stand in every division and to help return Labour councillors not just from Hastings (where all 7 Labour members on current council were elected from) but from divisions like Bexhill North which have in the not so remote past also elected Labour county councillors.