Council Tax: In April we are likely to see the largest council tax rise for a number of years. This is because of the continued squeeze by the UK government on local council grants. However, there is an admission by the UK government that the money they have been providing for adult social care has just not been enough. Instead of restoring funding to councils the Conservative government have raised the ‘cap’ of the amount the county council can raise from council tax. All that the Conservatives are doing are just shifting the burden from general taxation onto council taxpayers. Even then the amount of money raised is not going to be enough to plug the gap. When you get your council tax demand you will see that the ESCC tax will rise by 4.99%. Lewes District Council’s tax will go up by around 1.9% and the Police Commissioner for Sussex council tax rise for Sussex is reported to be 3.36%. These are already published percentages.
Cllr Sarah Osborne, Group Leader of the Lib Dems, at Lewes District Council is calling for the “antiquated” system to be overhauled and says, “This tax on businesses is a fundamentally flawed, regressive tax because it has no link with ability to pay.” Cllr Sarah Osborne adds “The Government are risking killing off our high streets by cutting the amount of tax paid by large retailers such as Amazon at the expense of our small shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants who may be forced out of business.”
Business Rates: The situation for businesses has a mixture of good news and bad news. For the first time for in 7 years there has been a business rates review. Linked with this, ministers have freed up the valuation ‘ceiling’ which has resulted in extraordinary high increases for some businesses. One pub landlord in the Lewes area recently told me that his business rates are forecasted to go up by 177%! It seems the ‘winners’ who are getting reductions are warehouse companies like Amazon and the losers are businesses in our towns and villages with ‘bricks and mortar’ style premises. At this week’s upcoming District Council meeting I have tabled a question asking the Conservative leader to write to the government asking him to undertake an urgent review to try and soften the blow on small businesses. (See below) Hopefully, because of the pressure from all quarters the Chancellor may take special action in his Spring Budget on 8 March 2017.
Cllr Vic Ient’s question to the Lewes District Council – Thurs 23rd Feb 2017:
Excessive business rate increases for local pubs, restaurants and small businesses
Over the past few weeks in the press we have seen a number of national organisations including the CBI, the IOD and the British Chamber of Commerce raising their concern about the rating revaluation which may affect a whole range of businesses including local pubs and restaurants/catering businesses. Whilst I appreciate that the rating revaluation for businesses occurs regularly every five years and that the government regularly uses a tapered form of relief to soften the blow over the five-year period of implementation it seems that this year there is a much bigger step increase in the basic revaluation for these smaller local businesses. In comparison it seems that major international companies like Amazon with large warehouses will have a sizable reduction in their rating revaluation. It seems that the pubs and small restaurants are being penalised because they are on the high street or in a bricks and mortar building in the countryside whereas rating revaluation for industrial estate warehouses have gone down! We can’t believe everything in the press but with the Times and the Guardian talking about increases of 42% for smaller businesses and with the calls from respected institutions that I’ve mentioned above , I believe the Lewes District Council should not ignore the potential problem.
My question is this:
Would the Leader of the Council write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as a matter of urgency, asking him to review the levels of onerous tax increases which the smaller businesses are facing due to the business rate review?
Since being elected in May last year there have been a series of full Council meetings. Previously I have reported on these in this web site but in this report I include some video footage from the full District Council meeting on Thurs 25th Feb 2016 and recent District & County issues:
Click on any of the headings below to go to sections of my report:
As you may know there has been a lot of controversy over the North Street development in which Lewes District Council is a partner with Santon. Now that the redevelopment has been given planning permission the businesses which are located there have to find alternative premises either permanently or temporarily while building works go on. Lib Dem Council Group Leader Sarah Osborne proposed that the Council implements a package of financial assistance amounting to some £50,000 to assist the businesses in relocation and moving to alternative premises on the condition that they stay in the district. This money will only be available to District Council commercial tenants who have been caught up in the plan to develop the site. The motion was supported by the Council and is aimed at retaining the services which the companies provide and employment in the Lewes area. CLICK HERE for a video of the debate which starts with Vic Ient supporting the motion.
Flood protection for the Ouse River
Lib Dem Councillor Prof Peter Gardiner proposed a new programme of flood protection and water retention works for the Ouse River above Lewes at the Lewes District Council meeting held on February 25, 2016. Over the past few years Peter has put in many hours to develop a scheme for the Ouse valley above Lewes. Peter proposed and the Council voted in £300,000 worth of work over three years being financed from the repatriated ring fenced Environment Agency levy in the Council’s general fund. The work will include tree and hedgerow planting together with flood storage ponds and other flood mitigation and river enhancement work. Some monies have also been set aside for education and awareness sessions. All of this keys into the larger Environment Agency capital works. The detailed research for the project has been carried out by the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust together with the Sussex Flow Initiative.CLICK HERE for a video clip of Vic Ient speaks in support of the project.
Conservative government U-turn on renewable energy & CO2 emissions
As you may know, after the election in May 2015 the Tories lost no time in reversing much of the good work which was done under the coalition agreement. They have slashed support for renewable energy systems and, according to the energy monitoring organisation Carbon Brief, the new regime has serious consequences for the development of renewable energy in the UK. The Conservative government’s focus is now on other forms of fuel including gas from fracking (hydraulic fracturing). This means that we are now further away from getting rid of polluting forms of energy and dealing with climate change. At the District Council meeting there was a debate on two items relating to CO2 emissions, pollution and renewable energy.
Secondly, there was a debate around a motion aimed at trying to keep a focus on renewable energy in the Council’s own building programme. I supported Cllr Susan Murray’s proposal but I’m afraid the motion was lost. The Conservatives voted it down. Whilst the Council are in a difficult position as grants are now virtually non-existent for solar panels, air source heat pumps and other forms of renewable energy, I do think the Conservatives could have tried harder to keep a local programme of renewable energy alive. I appealed to them to consider implementing new building programmes including solar tiles (much less unsightly than panels), air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. Installing renewable energy in a new building is only fractionally more expensive than upgrading an old building. I was supported by Cllr Prof Peter Gardiner who pointed out the government’s focus on fracking for gas in Sussex which could be geologically unsafe to the area. CLICK HERE for a short video of Vic Ient speaking
Council Tax going up!
For the first time for a number of years the council has voted in a council tax increase of 1.9%. Why is this? In previous years there has been government support during the recession years to avoid councils having to increase their Council tax. The Conservative government has ended that support and introduced more cuts to local authority funding. We are now beginning to feel the effects of the Conservative Chancellor’s financial measures. However this is only the District Council’s portion of council tax. The County Council is also suffering from government cuts and in their case there also having to accept some of the burden being transferred for funding from central government to local government. I can’t speak for the ESCC but I think you’ll find that the increases will be 3.99% (2% of which relates to the Adult Social Care) for the ESCC. Separately to this there will be increases in council tax levied by the police Commissioner. I see that the Police & Crime Commissioner web site report that their precept will be increased by 3.47% and finally parish councils and town councils depending on where you live will levy their own precept.
What the average adds up to for your council tax bill depends very much on the overall budget for each authority. As usual will see bills going out before the end of March that will show you the bottom line.
New housing legislation will badly affect the less well off!
The leader of the Lib Dem Group at the District Council, Sarah Osborne proposed a motion at the Council meeting to try and minimise the effect of the Tory Government’s Housing and Planning Bill 2016 for local council & housing association tenants.
The Conservative government has put forward a complicated piece of legislation which will have far-reaching effects on the local authority housing and the planning system. Amongst other things the Conservative government proposes to force housing associations to sell off their most expensive housing stock. This new legislation will also force rents up for social housing (Council houses) for those earning over £30,000 per annum. A family earning over this amount will have to pay much increased ‘market’ rents. Perhaps the Tories don’t know that social rents are not subsidised! The so called ‘Pay to Stay’ will see rents for a 2 bed property in the Lewes District double from approx. £100 pw to £200 pw if they are charged at the Local Housing Allowance Limit and go up to £269 pw if at market level. Also the Government’s proposals would remove the flexibility of councils to offer different kinds of tenancies in response to local need.
Proposals on planning in the Bill including national interventions in local plans whilst taking away local community influence. Other proposals on affordable housing developments are likely to cut £3 billion of investment from the supply of affordable and social rented properties. This Bill also effectively transfers powers to the Secretary of State who will have 34 new powers under this Bill. There has been a lack of democratic debate on the entire bill with many amendments being slipped in ‘under the radar’ late into the night in Parliament during the debate.
Councillor Sarah Osborne’s motion was passed! The principles of the motion were:
To work with other neighbouring authorities to oppose the current government proposals to force councils to sell off high value stock.
To write to local MPs, asking them to support the Council’s position and to speak up in parliament.
Tory led County & District councils under financial scrutiny
With all the checks and controls that have been implemented for local government over the recent decades you would think that big mistakes couldn’t happen! However here are two examples of the Conservative run County and District councils operating in a way that certainly doesn’t help our tax bill! –
A potentially valuable housing site lost to the Lewes town and potentially millions lost in council’s income!
ESCC decision to grant a 999 lease of the former St Anne’s School in the heart of Lewes to the Subud organisation came under further scrutiny this week. Questions are being asked as to why the deal has not gone through 2 ½ years after the tender was accepted by ESCC! At the Council meeting on February 9 2016, calls were made for the sale to be reconsidered. Lib Dem Councillor Carolyn Lambert, who spoke at the meeting in support of Lib Dem Councillor Rosalyn St Pierre, is quoted by the Sussex Express as saying “I fail to understand why we are still apparently waiting for an organisation to complete a transaction 2 ½ years after their tender for the site was accepted by the County Council. This was a controversial decision at the time and is more so now, given the pressure on local authority budgets and the need for affordable housing in Lewes”.
Local Liberal Democrats are so concerned about the County Council’s decision they have reported the matter to the District Auditor for independent investigation. A member of the public was also reported in the Sussex Express as saying “the 4.4 acre site, plus the grant of access across the County Hall car park, had been valued at a ‘conservative’ £3.5m by a trusted Lewes agent, while the site was sold to Subud for just £525,000”! According to the Evening Argus, estate agent Charles Wycherley has put forward his own “conservative” estimate for the ESCC site, which sits behind County Hall in Rotten Row, of at least £2.75 million with planning permission for housing. Whatever the figure it is clearly a site worth more that £525,000!
Recently I wrote to the ESCC and asked them why they had chosen to sell the property at what seemed to be a very reduced price. I haven’t received a very satisfactory answer but what I have found out is that the Suhub sect (who are the ‘agreed’ purchasers) would have to make it available to the whole community. Click the image below to read what my Lib Dem colleagues are saying:
‘49 Sites’ shambles is over but at a cost of nearly £600,000!
After months of campaigning by local residents and Liberal Democrat Councillors, the Conservative-run District Council voted today to drop the ’49 sites’ proposals.
The cost of of the flawed programme has ended up costing the tax payer nearly £600,000. Lib Dem Councillor Sarah Osborne said “We consistently called for an open and transparent process and when it became clear the Tories wouldn’t listen, we challenged for the Leadership twice, failing only because the Independent Councillor Ruth O’Keeffe abstained. Consequently this sorry saga has led to years of uncertainty for many residents and a great deal of expense for us all”. Read more: http://www.leweslibdems.org.uk/news
Thank you – more reports at: https://sussexcampaign.com/