West Sussex County Council has been warned it is ‘sleepwalking into a potentially catastrophic situation’ over the services it offers to vulnerable adults.
By April 2020, the council will have cut its housing related support budget by £4m to £2.3m, with a review of the contracts it runs being held in September.
The cuts left service providers such as Crawley Open House and Stonepillow in shock, with concerns about the consequences for homeless people, vulnerable adults and older people.
At a meeting of the health and adult social care select committee (HASC) earlier this month, members were told that thousands of people needed the services, a figure Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) described as ‘staggeringly shocking’.
The council was recently on the receiving end of a damning Ofsted report, which rated its children’s services ‘inadequate’, followed closely by a highly critical report into its fire and rescue services.
Dr Walsh was loath to see the bad news continue.
He said: “My view is that we are, as a select committee and a council, sleep walking into a potentially catastrophic situation for West Sussex.
“We had a very critical review of Ofsted of the children’s services of this county council. I don’t want to be here in two or three years’ time when we have a similar outside body coming and telling us that we’ve failed in our duty across the public service.”
Since January, Natalie Brahma-Pearl, chief executive officer at Crawley Borough Council, has been leading a task and finish group looking at ways to deal with the situation – and what would happen to the services after October 1.
Describing the time-scale as ‘unbelievably challenging’, Ms Brahma-Pearl told the meeting that the group had carried out an assessment of which services would ‘fall off a cliff edge in September’.
The meeting was provided with details of which were likely to receive funding after September and which were not.
Funding to support older people in their homes was listed as ‘unlikely’ to continue, while support for homeless ex-offenders was described as ‘not a priority for funding’.
The task and finish group has been working with consultants Snook – ‘who specialise in trying to unravel systems and how they work’ – to look at and understand the current and future needs of the county’s homeless community.
After hearing about the budget cuts, the service providers banded together to form a coalition, attending workshops with the task and finish group and being kept informed about the approach being taken.
John Holmstrom, of Turning Tides, a Worthing-based homelessness charity, spoke about a ‘sense of peril’ and urged the committee to closely scrutinise the situation and continue to work with the coalition.
Mr Holmstrom said the underlying concern was that, no matter how clever the council was with the £2.3m, without ‘significant investment from other stakeholders’ there was the risk of human and financial ‘catastrophe’ as well as pressure on services.
The seven district and borough councils are the housing authorities in West Sussex – but they have the same money problems as the county council.
Ms Brahma-Pearl said they were faced with ‘some huge challenges’, adding: “We too are subject to budget cuts, to less money coming in and having to cut our cloth accordingly.
“We’re all going through the same thing, it’s just a case of who’s left holding the baby last.”