East Sussex County Council set a balanced budget for 2024/25 at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, February 6.
To offset increasing costs and demand for services, and long-term reductions in Government funding, the council agreed to use £14 million of the council’s limited reserves but warned that this was a one-time only option.
Residents will also be asked to pay an additional 4.99 per cent in council tax, which includes the additional two per cent for adult social care allowed by Government – the equivalent to an extra £1.62 per week on a Band D property.
Councillors also agreed that further investment in highways maintenance should be considered when the end of year financial picture was clearer.
Speaking after Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Nick Bennett, deputy leader and lead member for resources and climate change, said: “After extensive lobbying, the Government has slightly increased funding for local authorities to help meet rising pressures, but it doesn’t come close to meeting the growing costs and demand for our services.
“Asking residents to pay more council tax, is not something we do lightly. Years of careful financial planning have left us in a stronger position than others, but we have to take action to protect the services that so many rely upon.”
The cost of providing vital council services has risen sharply across the country especially for children and adults’ social care, where the impact of Covid, complexity of need, and cost of living pressures, has driven up demand. Inflation, market pressures and high profit margins by some providers in children’s services have also significantly increased costs.
The county council agreed to add more than £50 million to its annual spending for East Sussex in this year’s budget to help meet these pressures, though it is not being funded to match the increased spending. The council plan, published with the budget, sets out in more detail how services will be provided and how their effectiveness can be monitored.
Cllr Bennett added: “While the increase in council tax and the use of limited reserves allows us to deliver a balanced budget for 2024/25, we expect the deficit will grow to £45 million in 25/26 when the use of reserves is no longer an option.
“It is vital that we continue to make our case to Government for a fairer and sustainable funding arrangement to give us the best possible chance to plan further ahead and ensure we can meet our statutory duty and local needs.”
Tuesday’s full council meeting can be viewed at https://eastsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/844233, where agenda reports are also available.