Labour councillors challenge Tory West Sussex County Council’s priorities as museum and private companies get funding – while council services are slashed
Labour county councillors have formally challenged Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council over its decision to award £100,000 from the £240,000 remaining in the council’s “Kickstart” Fund, saying that the process for awarding money has not sufficiently taken into account all councillors’ views.
Leader of West Sussex County Council Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) recently approved a decision on behalf of the county council to give £100,000 to the Weald and DownlandMuseum, which is situated to the north of Chichester. This was after the Museum recently announced it has been awarded £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Labour councillors have invoked the council’s call-in process to hold the decision to greater scrutiny by councillors, and a formal meeting of the Select Committee will be held on 21st January 2014 to scrutinise this.
- In 2011, the Tory controlled county council established a budget of £56.3 million which it called the “Kickstart Fund” programme, not long after it announced that it would be making cuts to county council services for the period 2011-14 of £79 million.
- This fund includes £673,000 of county council money set aside in February 2014 for a grant programme called “Be the Business“, the aim of the programme to put money into private businesses “to start up and grow”. Companies that have benefited in the past year include a coffee shop, a pie company, a private care home and a manufacturer of lobster pots.
- This is despite the cuts already made in the previous three years to county services, which have included £31 million from Adult Social Services, £7.1m from children’s and families services, £2.4m from education, £5.6m from environment and economy services, £13.8m from finance and resource services, £10.3m from highways and transport, and £5m from public protection, which included £2.5 million to the Fire and Rescue Service.
- This is also in the face of a further £124 million in cuts the Tories have recently announced they will make to county council services in the next four years, including yet another £1.6 million cut to the Fire and Rescue Service.
Labour County Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Crawley Central), who will lead the call-in of the decision at the forthcoming Select Committee, said:
“This isn’t just about money being given to one museum, although once again we are seeing West Sussex behaving like it is the local District Council and pouring money into the Chichester area on an issue that is not part of its responsibilities as a county council.
“It is about the fact that the Tory county council is prioritising money to effectively subsidise local businesses and boost their profits, when at the same time they are slashing spending on frontline services they are legally obliged to provide.
“The Tories told us last month they cannot afford £70,000 to go towards the county’s Food Banks, despite the clear need in some areas. The Cabinet Member asked us at Full Council where should this money come from instead – well, I am telling him it could come from here, for a start.
“If it’s a choice between a museum and the County Council safeguarding vulnerable children and adults, I say let the District council get on with its job of supporting the museum.”
Leader of West Sussex Labour Group Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East) agreed with Cllr Jones, adding:
“The Tory leadership at West Sussex needs to start putting people in this county before their own pet projects. There has been no consultation on this, or we believe, a chance for councillors to put forward alternatives.
“With the ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Be the Business’ funds there also appears to have been very little direct benefit to residents from a lot of the money which has gone in, other than some vague idea that it might help through some form of economic growth in the county.
“When the Tories are making eye-watering cuts across West Sussex council services, the question can be fairly asked – was this the best use of that money?”