An inconsistent approach

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Cllr Murray generously offers the Liberal Democrat Party her support for our intention to review special expenses, (letters, May 16) because she believes special expenses are a punishment to a town that does not support the currently Conservative district council.

I am grateful for Cllr Murray’s support on this issue but would like to draw her attention to some inconsistencies in her approach to her taxation policy.

Some years ago, I asked for the costs of All Saints to be reviewed. They seemed dispproptionately high and I wanted to know if they could be cut back. This was the original remit of the All Saints working party.

In 2012 however, on the advice of the All Saints working party, the town council voted to give notice to Lewes Cinemas Ltd who operated a cinema at All Saints on alternate weekends. The council swopped an annual rent of £5,000 for a projected income of £25,000.

In fact in the first year, there was a loss of just over £200 and, in the second, a profit of just under £700 had been notched up a month before year-end. 

This community arts centre costs the whole town approximately £85,000 a year (net operating) total. To put this into perspective it costs approximately £165,000 to run the town hall (not taking into account the corporate administration, civic administration, Mayoralty, Malling Cty Centre, Pells and Open Spaces) so, as you can see, the cost of this community cinema is substantial and has already benefited from the purchase of raked seating at approximately £30,000, as well as ongoing administrative support. No other arts or community group receives this level of funding in the town.

The planning committee say the community cinema at All Saints is ‘likely to be enhanced with a digital projector in the near future’. It wasn’t in the budget. It wasn’t mentioned at the last All Saints Steering Group, nor at the council and, at an estimated £31,000 according to the Independent Cinema Operator’s website.

This is despite the claim made in this month’s Viva Lewes, that the person, ‘driving the development’ at ‘The Depot’ which will offer a three screen cinema at Harveys old warehouse site, is also the driving force behind the community cinema, at All Saints.

We could see a situation where Lewes will find itself with five cinema screens in a town that previously could not support one commercial cinema, and we will still be underwriting the costs of one of them.

Meanwhile, on the finance working party, where councillors from the All Saints Working Party also sit, including Cllr Murray, any attempt to suggest that it might be a good idea to review the overheads of the town hall, (including All Saints) to make savings, is consistently rejected by Cllr Murray. If it’s simply suggested that we consider the possibility of thoroughly reviewing the costs, other than rubber stamping the Town Clerk’s advice, any such suggestion is usually greeted with the explanation, provided by the officer, that it is not the council’s responsibility to make a profit, but to provide a service to the people.

While consistently refusing to consider economies on this arts centre, or for that matter on any cost centre, you will find many of those same councillors are supporting the provision of food banks. I have no objection to the provision of food banks, but this seems inconsistent.

It has been argued that the people who pay council tax are not the people who make use of the food banks.

However, Lewes is a town where the market price of property for purchase or rent, is above the national average, (for those who live and work locally,) and the wages are below the national average. In addition we have a growing number of residents on a fixed income. Council tax is mandatory, so I would consider the raising of this to be a very serious matter.

I would rather see:

All Saints Centre run by a voluntary group, which could still have a cinema showing special interest films, (unless that role will also be transferred to ‘The Depot’); for the council to thank whoever has generously offered to fund the development and upkeep of ‘The Depot’ and relieve the civic purse of this responsibility; for this to make it possible to cut council costs to all Lewes residents as well as those who use the community cinema and who would no longer have to pay twice for an amenity – once through their taxes and once again through the ticket price, and; in general look forward to a more consistent approach to managing the local precept and; last but not least, to ask everyone to turn out and vote for Cllr Murray’s favourite party on the district council in 2015.

If this were to happen, Cllr Murray’s support for Liberal Democrat Policy at the district council would be consistent with her policy as a member of the All Saints Working Party, the Town Council Finance Working Party, the Town Council Planning Committee, The Green Party and a contributor to the Food Bank schemes.

Cllr Amanda Dean

Priory Ward, Lewes Town and Lewes District