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Labour county councillors criticise West Sussex Council as cuts hit people ‘at their most vulnerable’

Further cuts proposed by the Tory-led West Sussex County Council in their ‘Forward Plan’ will reduce the budget for ‘households in crisis situations’.

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Tory-run West Sussex County Council has been accused by Labour county councillors of striking a ‘massive blow’ against the poorest and most vulnerable people across the county.

This comes following the publication of proposals to slash by three quarters the “Local Assistance Network” provided by the council, a fund dedicated to helping those in need with essentials, when they need it most.

More news: Crawley Council awarded over £12k to stage CHIME event this November

In the same “Forward Plan” update last Wednesday that revealed the devastating cuts to homelessness provision across the county, the West Sussex Tories are now highlighting a further cut that will hit some of the poorest in the county: the county council are putting forward proposals that the Local Assistance Network will be slashed by three quarters from £800k to £200k.

The Local Assistance Network is what is left of what was the discretionary element of the old Social Fund formerly administered by the DWP/DSS. The Government delegated its administration to the county council in 2013, then totally withdrew the money to fund it in 2015. The county council kept some financial support going as a way of helping people re-establish themselves independently.

The Forward Plan states: “The Local Assistance Network (LAN) was established in 2013 to replace a number of discretionary benefits for households in crisis situations which had previously been available through the benefits system”.

It currently provides assistance for households with and without children on a low income, in crisis who require essentials such as food, clothing, furniture, white goods or help with gas/electric or petrol/travel costs.

These services have been used across the county, and are particularly heavily used in Crawley and Lancing. However, usage in the Horsham, Chichester, Worthing and Arun Districts is also significant.

The Local Assistance Network in Crawley is administered through Crawley Open House, CAB and various Children and Family Centres. In other parts of West Sussex, there are similar arrangements with their homelessness providers, and CAB and various Children and Family Centres can also help. Furnihelp administers some of the fund in Mid Sussex, and Horsham Matters in Horsham District. Stonepillow helps administer it in Chichester District, and Worthing Churches in Worthing, Adur and Arun.

Enquiries recently by Labour councillors with the county council revealed the council have not yet worked through the precise details of what will remain available through the fund if it is reduced as proposed, but it will reduce discretionary help to bare subsistence, and mean providers will no longer assist with bigger ticket items like furniture or white goods.

Labour county councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) condemned the move, saying:

“The loss is almost certainly going to have a significant impact in terms of health and wellbeing, child poverty, the ability to secure and sustain accommodation in the area where the person is living, and they will be faced much more often with choices whether to heat their home or eat.

“This will also restrict the ability to resettle people moving off the streets or out of hostel accommodation, get them to appointments and interviews for accommodation, detox and rehabilitation.”

Agreeing with Cllr Jones, Labour Group Leader on West Sussex County Council Sue Mullins (Northgate and West Green) added:

“Given that all these things the Local Assistance Network used to provide were precisely the sort of things that were meant to be helping people ‘get back on their feet’, it is a further massive blow to the people who are at their most vulnerable and those right at the bottom of the pile. It is a sign that the Tories both nationally and locally aren’t really committed in helping those who need it most.”

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Crawley College to reopen following incident

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Crawley College will be beginning a phased reopening to students from tomorrow, Thursday 29 April.

The phased reopening will take place between tomorrow and Tuesday 4 May with full details by courses provided on the college website www.crawley.ac.uk . Students should check details before returning to campus.

The campus has remained closed for the past two days following police investigations into the incident that took place at the college on Monday (26 April).

Vicki Illingworth, Principal of Crawley College, said:

“We are looking forward to welcoming our students and staff back to the college.

“We’d like to reassure everyone, the college is safe and they will be well supported in their return to the campus.

“Sussex Police have confirmed that this is being treated as an isolated incident which is not terror related and nobody else is being sought in connection with the incident.  The individual concerned is in police custody and has been charged.”

“We are now focussed on ensuring we can bring students and staff safely back on site. We’re proud of the service we provide to our students to give them opportunities in education and training.

“I can reassure everyone that this was a one-off incident and we have strategies in place to keep everyone as safe as possible, as well as giving the students the support they need to come back and join us to complete their studies successfully.”

Vicki also echoed her earlier comments, paying tribute to the staff who supported students who were on site during the events of Monday afternoon.

She added:

“I continue to remain full of admiration of our team. They pulled together on Monday and implemented all of the protocols we have in place to keep students safe.

“They’ve continued to work together to support each other and their students over the past couple of days – and they will continue to do so when students return to campus.

“We are also particularly proud of the two members of staff who acted so bravely and swiftly to apprehend the individual before the police arrived. They acted selflessly to protect their students and the college community. They have asked for privacy during this time.

“It was a very intense time for everyone involved.

“The students who were kept inside the college and who were part of the emergency evacuation were supported throughout by our staff and counselling services have been available to them this week. These services will continue to be in place for them to access.

“We’ve continued to be in touch with our students through our support services to check that they are ok and we will resume face-to-face counselling as soon as we can.”

Work is taking place at the college campus to repair some damage which was sustained during the evacuation and subsequent investigations, with teams working hard to ensure the campus is ready for reopening.

The college would like to thank students, staff, the Police and Emergency Services and the wider community for their ongoing support and understanding.

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