The decision at County Hall to cut funding for housing support services in West Sussex by almost two-thirds has been criticised by the leaders of Adur and Worthing councils.
The West Sussex County Council housing-related support funding is used to provide accommodation to people of all ages, including young adults at risk of homelessness, families on short-term tenancies and elderly people in need of sheltered support.
West Sussex launched a consultation into the £6.3 million of funding - £1.8 million of which is spent in Adur and Worthing - this autumn with the aim of ensuring the services were sustainable.
This was despite district and borough councils calling for a postponement of any reductions until 2020/21 to give time for all stakeholders to agree a way forward.
A joint statement issued by Neil Parkin, leader of Adur District Council, and Dan Humphreys, leader of Worthing Borough Council, said: “We recognise the huge impact that the services currently provided by this housing-related support budget have on our communities. This is why we have been working hard with county colleagues along with district and borough representatives to find an agreeable way forward.
“Unfortunately our suggestion to postpone any reductions so that a joint county-wide approach could be adopted has not been heeded.
“There is no hiding that these reductions will reduce front-line support for the vulnerable and impact a range of third sector providers in our communities. Even the police have warned it has the risk of making West Sussex less safe.
“We believe these reductions will end up costing far more in the long run. It will also result in the worse possible Christmas present for our valued third sector providers and the individuals they support.
“Moving forward, we will continue to do everything we can to support vulnerable people with housing across our area. We will monitor the impact of these reductions carefully so that our already-stretched resources continue to support those most in need across our communities.”
Earlier this week Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, said: “This is probably one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made, but the financial situation is also equally hard.”
One question which has been repeated over and over by the public and some councillors, is ‘why can’t they look elsewhere for savings?’
Mrs Goldsmith said: “We have looked elsewhere.
“I think we’re a very lean organisation and we’re in an OK position compared to many other councils.
“There wasn’t an awful lot of room when you’ve taken £200m out of the organisation. Where do you look?
“We have taken decisions and we’re late looking at the supported housing. Other councils have said to me ‘we did that three to five years ago’.
“In my heart of hearts I’d hoped we would have been able to keep it.
“But because it’s not our main statutory duty, then we have to look at everything.
“We’re in a no stone unturned situation and we will continue with that because we’ve got a lot more savings to make.”
A county council spokesman said: “The consultation provided the opportunity for the Cabinet Member for Adults and Health to meet the coalition of providers, the district and borough councils and those who would be affected by any change in funding. The decision has been made to continue to invest in these services but at a reduced level following the government grant being removed in 2011.
“We acknowledge the vital nature of the housing related support services and we have already extended the contracts with providers by a further six months. The phased reduction of funding, over a period of two years, is to give time for the county council to work with providers, and other partners, to find solutions which continue to meet the needs of our residents but also deliver the savings that we have to make.”