Things continue to look grim at Tory controlled West Sussex County Council. Looking at the recently published accounts, it appears austerity is over if you’re a highly paid executive, but not if you are an average employee or, indeed, service user.
Since last year there are five more council staff paid £100,000 or more, bringing the number up to 21. Meanwhile the expenses and allowances paid to top officers increased by a third. Adding on pension costs, this is a significant amount.
Also the county council spent more than £6million in two years on redundancies and agreed exits. That’s all an awful lot of money they could have been spending on services.
The figures make a mockery of how careful with the finances the local Tory political leadership claim they are being. It’s particularly outrageous when we know they are contemplating cutting back fundamental services like our libraries and concessionary fares for disabled people.
Given all this, you would have expected all councillors to be speaking out, particularly given the recent inadequate ratings for children’s services and the fire and rescue service.
Except those few Tory councillors who have spoken out were disciplined by their colleagues instead, showing exactly how ruthlessly the West Sussex Tories treat any of their number who publicly criticises the party line.
But it has far wider implications. West Sussex county council is one where people are institutionally afraid to speak out.
WSCC staff surveys indicate 67% of staff do not feel they can speak up and challenge what is done. We also know from the inspections and from unions there is deep concern about a bullying and intimidation culture within the council.
Compare that to Labour-run Crawley Borough Council, where three quarters of all staff say they feel safe to express their views and opinions honestly.
The county council is at one of its lowest ebbs, with a Tory leadership not keeping a proper grip on the reins. It can’t go on like this.
Cllr Michael Jones
Leader, West Sussex Labour Group