Plea for more Government cash to plug county council’s massive shortfall created by pandemic

In the midst of a global pandemic local authority finances might not be at the forefront of our minds. But, the impact of this virus is far reaching and long lasting.

Paul Marshal, leader of West Sussex County Council

At West Sussex County Council our staff have worked tirelessly in the response to this virus.

We have set up whole new services with community hubs – direct support for the most vulnerable in our society - those who found themselves early on unable to get access to food or medicines. We continue that support now, making sure people have access to care, to essential supplies and linking them in with other key services; mental health services, financial support, or any other support they might need.

Our public health responsibility has been to make sure we work with local partners, national public health teams and central government to monitor and remain vigilant to how the virus is spreading in the county, to act where we see cases appear, be that in our care homes, our hospitals, or other sections of our communities. We have been there to make sure people have the right information about how to interpret and follow government guidance, to make sure we all do the right thing and help to keep each other safe.

And throughout this time we have continued many of our vital services, keeping vulnerable children and adults safe, supporting our schools, disposing of waste, continuing to keep the roads running and maintained, continued to carry out lifesaving work through our fire and rescue service and much more besides. I am beyond proud of the way we continue to support our residents.

However, and it is an important however, we cannot continue to promise that. So far our modelling shows that just for this year; 2020/21 this pandemic could cost our organisation in the region of £70m. Even with the £36.4m funding we’ve had from Government that’s still £33.6m more than we would have spent over the same period. Our modelling also shows that if there is a significant economic downturn then the income taken from council tax would be less than expected; meaning our actual cost pressure would be around £85m. Beyond this there are further costs predicted in the longer term meaning we will be continuing to manage the financial impact of this pandemic for years to come.

We need to make sure that we continue to be able to keep people safe and supported, to be there when our economy needs it most to help it thrive and grow again, to support communities to prosper after what has been the most challenging time of confinement and restriction. But I know we can’t do that without the resources and the means to do it. We need more money from central government to be able to fulfil our promises and our duty to you.

We are lobbying hard at Government level to make sure local authorities receive the right and fair funding to be able to continue to support communities.

I know we have the full support of our West Sussex MPs and have shared this challenge with them. Our MPs know that unless central Government provides more funding to fill the gap we will have to prioritise our services and make steps to balance our budgets.

We are there for West Sussex, we are West Sussex.