Demands for a rethink on plans to cut care services for thousands of vulnerable people in West Sussex were overwhelmingly rejected by the county council today (Friday, May 13).
A motion calling for a pause allowing a working party to review possible alternatives was thrown out by 45 votes to 22, with two abstentions.
The motion was put forward by Lib Dem Cllr James Walsh, who claimed the cuts would ‘turn the Big Society into a Do It Yourself Society.’
The county council went on to approve an alternative proposal, tabled by Conservative Cllr Christine Field, declaring that the county council must maintain its commitment to the county’s communities, but could only do this ‘within the means available.’
The motion also said the council would maintain its commitment to the fair reassessment of people’s needs, but reaffirmed the budget set in February.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside County Hall and crowded into the public gallery as the debate took place.
Charles Boughton-Leigh, founder and co-chairman of the Ferring Country Centre for disabled people, told the county council: “You are targeting the vulnerable - the people least able to help themselves.”
The voluntary sector could not be expected to take up the slack, he added.
Cllr Peter Catchpole, cabinet member for adults’ services, said the county council was in the worst financial position ever, following years of under-funding by the previous Government.
He declared: “There is no easy way of making reductions in our budget - I truly wish there was. But no one has been able to put forward any feasible alternative that would exclude adults’ services from making a contribution.”
Cllr Walsh said his motion was asking for a pause, so that a working party made up of county councillors and representatives of the Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign could produce reasons for the cabinet member to review the decision.
Cllr Derek Deedman claimed the county council could avoid making the cuts by using reserves, but Cllr Steve Waight said the reserves were at a bare minimum.
Labour member Cllr Brenda Smith said the cuts would have a drastic and draconian effect on people’s lives.
Cllr Michael Brown, cabinet member for finance and resources, said there was an absolute necessity for the Government to reduce the nation’s enormous fiscal deficit and borrowing.
In developing the budget, they took care to ensure those depending on support were prioritised so the most vulnerable were protected as far as possible.
Budget changes proposed by the petition would lead to cuts in the library service, fire and rescue and highway work.
“We have to learn to manage with what we have got,” he warned.