It has been a little while since West Sussex County Council was last mentioned in this column, although the council does carry out a large number of the services Crawley residents use and rely on every day. Highways, schools, social services, the Fire Service, libraries, trading standards -; I could go on.
There has been a lot going on at County Hall. Decades – many decades – of continuous control by the Tories have left the views of other people largely ignored.
It is a council that has tried to plough on, as its leadership pursues their current ideological direction of outsourcing whatever council-run services it can to private companies, but the cracks are starting to show.
There is a black hole in the current capital programme of 68 million pounds. Recently the council’s own auditors warned councillors of the sharp decline in oversight of outsourced contracts and risk management (on issues that have been raised by opposition councillors time and time again -; and still not addressed).
This isn’t some minor admin difficulty -; it is millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money potentially being overpaid to private companies because the county council hasn’t got its act together, and so can’t be spent on other things that might actually benefit you and your community.
The council is not clawing back money from the private sector when contracts go wrong, or there is a performance failure or business failure, and it appears the council is only uncovering these issues about money that is owed, too late to act on it.
There has not been enough frank discussion in the council, and that has contributed to the problem.
When it was debated recently, Tory county councillors were standing up saying all this was unfair, that we were picking on “one little problem” and everything else in the garden was rosy.
I’ll leave people to conclude for themselves how “little” the problem of losing millions of pounds might be, but as we enter the autumn, I’m certain that many of the other things not going well at the council are likely to become much clearer.
One thing is clear: my Labour colleagues will continue to fight for our residents and their interests every step of the way. There will be no easy life for the powers-that-be at County Hall.
Cllr Michael Jones
Labour, Southgate and Bewbush