On Friday (October 19), the county council will welcome campaigners from Don’t Cut Us Out to present their case against changes to adult social care that have been forced on us by the financial crisis.
I know this will be an emotive occasion. The county council has always prided itself on offering the very best level of funding to those seeking help and we have resisted making any reduction for as long as possible.
But the global economic meltdown with the inevitable, substantial cuts in government grant to local authorities has left us with no alternative. The challenge is compounded by an ageing population with all the additional costs that are associated with that.
If only it were true that the council is awash with cash and could easily reverse the decision of 18 months ago, as some have wrongly suggested! Sadly, we only have £18m in reserves, which has not been allocated – and we must retain that for emergencies.
It would be irresponsible not to have the money readily available to cope with incidences that threaten our communities - like the flooding of earlier this year or a prolonged period of icy and treacherous roads.
I would find it extremely difficult in the event of a really desperate winter to have to face residents and say, sorry, but the money to grit the roads has run out and we cannot afford any more salt.
Our other reserves are fully committed to future, vital work – not least keeping our streets safe and ensuring we are able to meet our long-term contractual commitments, for example to recycle waste.
In West Sussex, as elsewhere, people are living longer – which is great news and something to celebrate. However, it brings with it huge financial challenges at a time when our spending on adults’ services already represents more than a third of the council’s total budget.
It is critical that we reshape some of our services to meet people’s needs as they move into old age.
Above all else, we know that people want to remain independent in their own homes for as long as possible, and do not want to see their properties sold to meet the costs of residential care.
That is why we have launched a whole new raft of improvements to the way we deliver adults’ services such as prevention and assessment teams, specialist day care centres, and the use of devices such a wireless pendant alerts that are linked to a 24 hour monitoring service.
Your county council is committed to meeting its obligation to help the most vulnerable people in our community, as well as ensuring a growing elderly population can ‘Age With Confidence’ in West Sussex.
Our criteria changes, which bring us in line with the majority of local authorities, mean that we will still fund social care for people with substantial and critical needs. The reassessments of people’s needs have been handled with care and sensitivity.
But that does not mean we are indifferent to the concerns of those who will see a reduction in the support they currently receive. We sincerely wish it were otherwise. That is why council leaders across England are pressing the Government to reform the funding of adult social care; and it is why we will welcome campaigners to County Hall on Friday, no matter how emotional the occasion nor how helpless we may feel given the appalling financial situation that faces us all.
(Con, Chichester West) leader of West Sussex County Council, County Hall, Chichester