Hopes are rising that West Sussex may at last be in line for a better cash deal from the government – which would have implications for every man, woman and child in the county.
For nine years running, the county council has received what has been described as the ‘worst possible’ grant settlement.
Cllr Michael Brown, its cabinet member for finance and resources, told members that after a meeting with local government minister Bob Neill, he was now ‘mildly optimistic’ something might at long last come which benefited West Sussex.
Cllr Brown, who met the minister along with MPs Andrew Tyrie and Peter Bottomley, said a number of ‘political questions’ were put to him.
One of these was if the formula used to distribute money across the country was fair and equitable, why did it give rise to such startlingly-different answers in identical locations.
East and West Sussex had almost identical populations, almost the same ethnic composition, and well-developed coastal urban strips backed up by weald and agricultural hinterland.
“They are almost sister authorities, but in the case of East Sussex the government gives £216m to help them discharge their duties as a county, and it gives us in West Sussex £140m – a £76m difference,” said Cllr Brown.
“The question to the minister was ‘tell us the stark differences between the two which means they are worth £76m more than us’.”
Another question referred to the question of ministerial discretion.
Under the previous government, the grant shrank for a period of ten years in the south east in general and West Sussex in particular. It grew year-on-year in the West Midlands and the north of England.
The point made was whether the minister would begin the process of repatriating at least some of the money to this part of the country.
Cllr Brown said the minister undertook to ask his officials to examine the questions with a degree of urgency, and to come back in writing.
Given the speed at which Whitehall worked, he felt they would be lucky to get a response by Christmas, but he was mildly optimistic something might at long last come which benefited West Sussex.