Lewes council tax rise and budget given backing

Lewes District Council Southover House
Lewes District Council Southover House

Lewes councillors have backed plans to increase council tax by 1.99 per cent as part of the authority’s 2019/20 budget.

At a meeting on Monday (February 25), Lewes District Council set its 2019/20 budget, which included the council tax rise, cuts of up to £400,000 and plans to increase council income by £200,000.

Speaking after the meeting, cabinet member for finance Bill Giles said: “This healthy financial position follows three years of maintaining a balanced budget through efficiency savings and a firm control of expenditure, as well as careful investment in new and existing properties.

“I feel that it is vital that we make every effort to take great care of the money which we take from our hard pressed residents and businesses. I can only say that a lot of other councils would be pleased to be in a similar healthy financial situation.”

The agreed budget also included a number of amendments put forward by Liberal Democrat group leader Sarah Osborne, which proposed additional spending on a number of projects.

The amendments include: spending £10,000 on a citizens science project to measure air quality around the district; spending £10,000 on projects to improve and preserve local biodiversity; and spending £28,000 to replace litter bins with dual bins designed to make it easier for residents to recycle.

Cllr Osborne’s amendments also included the pilot appointment of a trade and investment account manager to council payroll. According to council documents, the manger would be responsible for attracting investment and supporting businesses within the district.

Cllr Osborne said: “Never before have local authorities needed to do more to attract new businesses to their areas.

“We know we will soon be partially reliant on business rates for much of our income and of course we face the challenge of Brexit, possibly.

“Thus we need to resource and have a focused approach to boost the start-up and growth of businesses in the Lewes area.”

A final amendment builds on the theme, setting out plans to use council-owned assets as ‘pop-up business spaces’ in Lewes and Newhaven, in an effort to provide office space for small scale businesses and start-ups.

All six amendments were supported by the council’s Conservative group and added to the core budget proposals.

While some concerns were raised over the area-based special expenses charge – which see some areas pay a larger additional bill for the maintenance of open spaces – the budget was agreed by a large majority.

As the final full council meeting before the May elections, council leader Andy Smith paid tribute to the work of all councillors over the council’s term.

He said: “The reality is for the last four years we have all worked together surprisingly well and because of this we have been able to get better outcomes for our residents in terms of value and improved services from Lewes District Council.

“We collectively have accrued a long list of achievements which I hope, when you reflect on them, you will feel as proud as I do.

“I said when I became leader nearly four years ago, I would endeavour to create a period of stability for this council by working with you all, to bring about my desire to have a change in culture to one of respect across our distinctive groups in this chamber and our committees.

“The group leaders in particular have worked together to create a level of trust between groups, so we could in effect spend less time point scoring and more time problem solving.”

Lewes District Council’s 1.99 per cent increase comes alongside larger increases in the East Sussex County Council share of council tax and a increase in the share of the precept paid to the fire service and police.