I WRITE in response to the letter in the Chichester Observer from the Secretary/Co Chair of the Labour Group for Midhurst. It talked about what is now becoming a rather familiar claim from the local Labour Party that the county council is obsessed with ‘outsourcing’ its services.
So I am writing to set the record straight with your readers. I would like to make it quite clear that there is no political dogmatic approach for outsourcing. But there is and always will be a dogmatic approach to ensuring that we provide the very best outcomes for our residents.
And yes, that does sometimes involve commissioning many of our services but this is simply doing what our council tax paying residents expect of us – providing good outcomes at a good price.
The truth of the matter is, like any organisation, we have to adapt to the environment we live in. We are operating against one of the most challenging financial climates we have ever known.
I look back to when I joined the county council in 2001 – how the world and the county council has changed over the last 14 years! We thought the financial situation was tough back then but in comparison it was really quite kind.
But for those looking back to the past with rose tinted glasses and thinking that it is the right model for the future – think on. The world has changed out of all recognition.
The demands on our own services have changed enormously and the pressures on public services have never been greater. Some truly terrible child abuse cases such as Baby P and the recent awful revelations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham have put extensive demands on our Children’s Services like we have never seen before – and we absolutely have to respond to this challenge to ensure we are safeguarding our youngsters.
In West Sussex we have a growing elderly population, which is good, but this also puts further demands on our adults’ social services. Our adults’ services budget is £180million – the biggest of all our county council services – and it provides some absolutely vital services. But talk to any county council leader across the country, whatever their political colour, and you will hear the same message that this budget is under severe pressure.
Yes, the government has responded and given additional funding for the increased duties under Care Act and of course the Better Care Fund, but where this budget is concerned it is simply the Oliver Twist ask from councils ‘Please sir, can I have some more’.
But despite the financial climate, this county council has saved more than £120 million pounds over the last five years – and we’ve done it without putting our share of the council tax up by even one penny. These savings mark our contribution to reducing the country’s deficit. We have all had a part to play – it has been and will continue to be hard BUT it is the absolutely the right thing to do. You only have to look at Greece to sadly see the alternative option.
So we continue to operate in the knowledge that more savings are needed and will be needed in the future.
But West Sussex County Council remains committed to its three key core priorities – giving children the best start in life, supporting and growing the economy and helping and supporting our older residents to remain independent in later life.
I would describe the county council as evolving through a difficult financial situation to find the very best answers to meet our residents’ needs and demands.
That does not mean obsessing about one particular issue, like outsourcing, – it means seeking out pragmatic solutions with all our public sector partners across the county to do the very best for our residents.
Leader, West Sussex County Council
Chichester West Division