Observer, our Saturday independent columnist, welcomes better financial news from East Sussex County Council and wonders whether it signals that the bad old days are over.
Armageddon postponed or off the table completely.
At one stage last year I feared East Sussex County Council would go “bust”.
Its financial position had been on the slide for some time and it seemed the decline was getting faster and even more serious.
The council was squeezed by the limitations of how far it could jack up the council tax, the increasing demands of an ever-growing elderly population and the continuing sharp cuts in grants from central government.
When the grants from Whitehall were first reduced, there were obvious savings to make.
As the financial grip grew tighter, councillors faced very difficult choices.
Adult social care provision has been reduced, libraries closed and opening hours cut, the state of the roads and pavements continues to decline, the grass verges grow long . . . these are just some of the examples (there are many more) of the painful decisions councillors have been forced to make.
I am sure none of the county councillors sought election to make residents’ lives worse.
However, they have had to do a difficult job and mistakes have been made along the way – the allowances fiasco was unhelpful, to say the least.
The squeeze on the budget for the coming year is not as bad as was thought at one point before Christmas because of extra money trickling down from central government.
These appear to be one-off payments
The question is this: Is the extra money for potholes, social care etc a one-time only or a clear signal that austerity is really over and that what we expect from local government will now return to normal?
East Sussex County Council’s future
I suspect not, being a suspicious type, and I suspect there is not a soul at county hall or Whitehall who can give you an answer.
The bigger question of what to do with East Sussex County Council in the long term remains.
The ageing population and the increasing demands for adult social care – a service which is creaking at the seams (just ask insiders or people in the know) – combined with a relatively low population, that is generally not well paid, makes a review of local government in this neck of the woods a priority – once, of course, one or two other matters are sorted out in Westminster.