Legality of county council cuts challenged in Horsham protest

JPCT 161213 Richard Symonds - protest outside County Hall North. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 161213 Richard Symonds - protest outside County Hall North. Photo by Derek Martin

Proposed West Sussex County Council cuts ‘will cause suffering and more deaths’ among the disabled and vulnerable, a protester has warned.

Richard Symonds, 60, took to County Hall North on Chart Way, Horsham yesterday (Monday December 16) to protest against the planned £61.7m budget slash.

Mr Symonds also said he plans to challenge the legality of the cuts - describing the policy as ‘moral and political insanity’.

He said: “People were dying after the last cuts. Now they are going to carry on with the cuts, and they know that the cuts they make will cause suffering and more deaths.

“What is going on at the moment is moral and political insanity, and we feel the only way to stop it is to prove illegality.”

The policy has attracted criticism from groups such as UNISON West Sussex and campaigners Don’t Cut Us Out, as well as Liberal Democrat councillors.

Mr Symonds said there is a ‘powerful case’ that the policy, and the councillors in support of it, are ‘breaking the law’.

He claims the council is in breach of Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2012.

He said: “The situation is being presented to the solicitors and they will let us know if we have a legal case or not.

“There seems to be a very powerful case that what the cuts are, as a policy, are illegal.

“If they are proved to be illegal the councillors themselves who voted for them are breaking the law.”

Mr Symonds held a sign reading ‘public consultation before publicity stunt’ outside the county council building.

This referenced the four-week public consultation period, which began last week and ends in January.

He said: “They have rushed a public consultation - the fact they are rushing it through is suspicious, and what is more suspicious is being in the middle of Christmas.”

Mr Symonds added: “It clearly discriminates against those who are less able to fight.

“I am not going to be taken for a complete fool and I do not like other people to be taken for a fool.”

Mr Symonds said he plans to run as an Independent in Crawley in next May’s local elections, should the cuts go through.

He said that if elected he would push for Crawley and Gatwick to become independent of the county council by becoming a Unitary City Council.

Last week, Michael Brown, WSCC cabinet member for finance, addressed the criticism and defended the policy.

He told the County Times: “The draft savings proposals are significant and will reduce some service budgets, but there are also many reductions we are proposing to make through internal efficiencies that will not have any impact on residents.”