Most councillors on Lewes Town Council share the concern raised by Councillors Stockdale and Dean about the injustice of the special expense regime being imposed by the district council upon Lewes residents for the upkeep of open spaces. (Can we afford these costs? Sussex Express, March 14, 2014). However, we find it alarming that they should use their reasonable concerns to go on to make a sustained and totally unreasonable attack upon Lewes Town Council, on which they are, after all, elected representatives.
It seems to us that they have now joined the ranks of those who believe that everything is better done by the private sector rather than by public bodies.
Why should “management by the town council ... be the last option considered”? Devolution has been carefully considered over four years; professional auditors consistently report that we are well-run, and the town council’s track-record of improving things once they take-over is a good one. Remember; the Pells Pool was slated for closure under the district council, and the Priory remains were enclosed by barbed-wire and “Keep-out!” warnings. It is by working with local organisations in the way that it does that the town council has helped to create the environments that are the Pells and Priory we enjoy today. The All Saints Centre also thrives, and is home to many small local groups and a wide range of activities.
They make their case by using unverified and inaccurate figures and incomplete information to promote the idea that some other body could do a better job than the town council. They specifically refer to the Pells Pool and the Priory grounds, both owned by the town council and operated on their behalf by community groups. Indeed both do a fine job, but they do so with the continuing support and financial assistance of the town council. The town council pays a regular sum to the Priory Trust each year. Without this public money the Trust would struggle to find the funds to keep the grounds in the immaculate condition we have come to expect. On the Pells Pool the council also grant-aids the Community Association who operate it for us, and has been gradually building, year on year a pot to help pay for updated facilities, like a better kiosk, which will benefit the many Lewes residents who enjoy this very special outdoor pool every summer. Rather than supporting this Lewes institution for the benefit of his constituents Cllr Stockdale actually proposed at the meeting to decide our annual budget that £10,000 less should be put into this pot than had been proposed, thus delaying the much needed refurbishment.
Meanwhile their attack upon the town hall building is beyond belief. It was not “built to a standard fit for a great Northern industrial town”, but cleverly modified on the base of an historic medieval building to create a landmark town-centre feature that is used by so many local organisations who make use of its wonderful spaces for their events at very reasonable prices that enable them to continue and thrive. The council chamber is much in demand as a wedding venue so can hardly be so very shabby. Admittedly the building does indeed need work done to repair and refurbish it, but the town council has an ongoing programme for this, following nearly 30 years of neglect when it was owned by the district council.
The expense to the taxpayer is nowhere near the figure that they state it “probably” costs, and the figures are all readily-available to the public; so why did they, as councillors, not do their research properly? Do Cllrs Stockdale and Dean really believe that a commercial partner would be interested in making rooms available at affordable prices for everything from U3A classes to blood transfusion sessions and Lewes Operatic Society performances, while at the same time putting money into repairing the facade or updating the staff area to make it fit for the 21st century? We thought not! Oh; and the “terrible acoustics” don’t seem to deter the many choirs; concert orchestras; theatre/drama groups and public speakers who choose to regularly book it for their events!
They want the community to discuss all this. That is what they were elected to do as representatives to a local council. That time-honoured democratic machinery would have them make their points, coherently and properly-researched, to their peers to begin an informed debate. Fine, they can choose to ignore that but let them at least be honest and present full and accurate figures and information. And please stop attacking the excellent work done by town hall staff and councillors alike.
Lewes town councillors: