Haywards Heathens

The beginning of the end for Mid Sussex District Council?

The beginning of the end for Mid Sussex District Council?UKIP and the Liberal Democrat county councillors have proposed scrapping the district and borough councils in West Sussex to save more than £20million a year.

West Sussex County Council is proposing long-term budget cuts of £141million in order to keep council tax at the same rate, £14.7million this year which will no doubt be made in many frontline services. The UKIP county councillor for Lancing, Mike Glennon has tabled a motion to be discussed on Friday that district and borough councils in West Sussex be abolished in favour of becoming a single unitary authority instead. Similarly, Liberal Democrat county councillor for Littlehampton East Dr James Walsh has also tabled a motion for a committee to look at the possibility of creating one or two unitary authorities to replace the current two-tier system of local government in West Sussex and take forward any decision to Westminster for it to be enacted. Worthing Borough council leader Paul Yallop is not opposed to the idea.

With eight councils and 376 district, borough and county councillors in West Sussex, there is no doubt that massive savings can be made by moving to a system of unitary authorities, Wiltshire made the move in 2009 and made savings of more than £20million with a much smaller population and West Sussex could do better. Adur, Horsham and Mid Sussex district councils already have a partnership called CenSus (Central Sussex) which is a joint Revenues and Benefits Service. It is obvious that there is also duplication in many other areas such as human resources, and at senior management between the district and borough councils. There is also the layers of different services that are provided at both district level and at county level that could be streamlined, such as planning and household waste, which can also be confusing for the public.

However, with the growing general desire for more decision-making at a local level, one might question whether West Sussex is too large an area for the right decision to be made for locals – just as the County of Sussex was split into the separate county councils of East and West in 1889 as Chichester was deemed too far away to make local decisions.

There is the suggestion of two unitary authorities, one for the coast and the other for north of the South Downs. Adur District Council leader Neil Parkin supports the idea of scrapping district and borough councils but believes the only drawback of the two unitary authority suggestion is that the northern council would be wealthier in comparison to the coastal one.

Another concern, particularly for Haywards Heath, is that it is home to one of the councils and the sprawling labyrinth of Mid Sussex District Council's Oaklands campus would no longer be a major employer in the town as it would probably be reduced to a satellite office, if not axed altogether, in favour of other council homes such as Crawley or Horsham.

West Sussex County Council meets on Friday morning to discuss the motions, but although Liberal Democrat leader Dr James Walsh believes there is broader support, he suspects that the Conservatives which dominate West Sussex County Council will be whipped into objecting it because it comes from UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. Leader of West Sussex County Council Loise Goldsmith has described talk of budget cuts as "scaremongering" and "irresponsible".

UPDATE: Public to debate future of councils in West Sussex

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