Meeting with leaders of West Sussex County Council
Last week West Sussex MPs held one of our regular meetings with leaders of the County Council. We discussed a range of local issues including children’s services, funding, and the County’s digital strategy.
Funding remains a concern. Despite saving over £200 million since 2010, the County Council still faces a funding gap of £145 million over the next four years, and is having to make savings to deliver a balanced budget.
Of course, councils must live within their means, make savings and run services efficiently. But, as for our schools, there is evidence that West Sussex is not funded fairly.
In the current Government spending review, we will need to make the case for fairer funding, against a background of many competing claims to spend more on key services like the police and defence.
One of the messages from the Council was that greater long-term certainty of funding would be helpful. The sooner we can get through the current period of economic uncertainty over Brexit the better.
MPs were also briefed on the Council’s digital ambition, which is for our county to offer the highest quality of life to attract and retain skilled and talented workers.
West Sussex has been chosen as a 75 per cent Business Rates Retention pilot this year by the Government. The joint bid between all of our local councils in West Sussex plans to use the funding to invest in digital infrastructure to accelerate the deployment of fibre and support 5G technologies to support our local economy.
Meanwhile, the Council’s £30 million programme with the Government and BT/Openreach is pushing superfast fibre broadband coverage as far as possible. It has reached more than 95 per cent of the premises in West Sussex, building on the current commercial deployment by fibre broadband suppliers.
However, around 3 to 4 per cent of the County will be left without access to superfast fibre broadband. At the moment all that happens is that the Council helps to signpost affected people to alternative options such as subsidised satellite services or forming community groups which self-fund a broadband solution.
My concern is that many of my rural communities are in these digital ‘not spots’. Too many areas still have very poor mobile phone signals and internet connections. If we are to promote a successful rural economy the whole County must be better connected.
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