Cllr James Page, Leader of Lewes District Council, plans to charge ‘special expenses’ to all the towns in the district next year (last week’s Sussex Express).
He says, “This is not about ownership and maintenance of facilities or charging town councils extra”. But that’s just what it is all about. The first line of his business case reads: “What is proposed? A policy to encourage the devolution of assets and services to town and parish council.”
That is, he wants to transfer ownership – and the expense – of parks and open spaces to the parishes. The extra cost for Lewes if they don’t agree to be ‘encouraged to accept devolution’ – a Parks Tax – will be a whopping average £56 per household each year.
District councils were set up to make local government more efficient and cost effective. The assets of their predecessors were put into a pool to be shared by all. There was no pre-nup. No adjustment was made for councils that put in more or those that put in less – and the system has been allowed to run for 39 years. It seems our 1974 forced marriage is now facing an ‘encouraged’ divorce.
What’s more, it’s a divorce where Cllr Page gets shed the liabilities and to keep all the land, buildings and assets of value like the car parks and the huge plot of land on North Street that once belonged to Lewes Borough?
I have no desire to see other communities penalised. In the ’90s, Lewes Town Council bought back the Town Hall its population had built and paid for. It was required to take on the cost of an open air swimming pool or see it closed, while the coastal towns continue to have their beaches maintained by the council. AFC Ringmer play at Malling. 20 per cent of members of Lewes Rugby Club and many of the players are not from the town. Villages are supported by many subsidised services. And so it goes on.
The timescale for this major and complicated transfer is breathtakingly short: the consultation ends on October 31 and the charge or transfer will apply from April next year. Making things fair is not a simple matter of cost accounting. Devolving costs selectively to try to plug a hole in the budget undermines the purpose of the district council and its promise of “One District, One Council”.
Cllr John Stockdale
Lewes District and Town Councils – Bridge Ward