BREAKING NEWS: Council money man worried authority might not make it through the year

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THE Coming year will be the hardest West Sussex County Council has ever faced, its cabinet was told on Tuesday.

The man holding the county council’s purse strings told the cabinet he would be “relieved” if the authority made it through the next 12 months.

The comment was made by Michael Brown (Con, Fernhurst), cabinet member for finance and resources, who said the authority would be taking nearly £38m out of core budgets in a single go.

Mr Brown was quoted in the County Times in April playing down the impact of 1,300 potential job losses at the council.

His comments to this newspaper drew widespread criticism from unions, opposition politicians and local residents.

This week the cabinet heard that the council had had ‘great success’ with its fundamental service review, and had several times taken out as much as £20m from its budgets.

“But taking out £38m will be a significant challenge,” Mr Brown declared.

“If we get through this year, I will be heartily relieved, but it is going to be very, very difficult.”

A detailed financial report presented at the cabinet meeting said the budget included £37.8m of savings to be delivered in 2011-12.

There was a ‘continuing pressure’ over savings from staffing reductions, it warned.

It had been assumed a full year saving in this financial year would be achieved. But many of the staff affected by a management restructure would not be leaving the authority until the end of the first quarter, and for those within the non-manager areas in finance and performance and communities and infrastructure, by the end of the second quarter.

This meant there was a risk the full year saving would not be achieved.

Individual directorates were not able to evaluate the full impact until staffing restructures were complete.

“But being aware of the likely range of risks, they are continuing to work on the basis that any shortfall will have to be made up from elsewhere in their directorate budgets,” said the report.

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