Council budget: focus on Covid-19 recovery and climate emergency

Councillors at Lewes District Council have agreed to limit a rise in the council tax to less than 10p a week, despite ‘unprecedented’ extra costs and loss of income as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

The 9.6p a week increase , which is just £5 a year in the council’s share of the bill, will ensure the council can continue to deliver essential services to residents, support local businesses and help the wider community to recover from the economic impact of Covid-19.

Councillor Zoe Nicholson (pictured), Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Finance, said:

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on so much of life, most tragically the loss of loved ones, while many still face a long journey to fully recover from the coronavirus.

“Jobs have also been lost and incomes reduced with inevitable consequences for family finances. With vaccinations reaching more people the outlook is improved, but the time when we can fully put the pandemic behind us, it still a long way off.  For these reasons, and notwithstanding unprecedented pressures on our budget, I am very pleased that we have been able to limit the increase in the council tax to just 9.6p per week, mindful of course that many people will pay less than this.

“This budget means we can continue to focus on building a sustainable local economy that retains wealth locally, addresses inequalities and underpins our work to become a carbon net zero authority.”

Efficiencies, savings and the limited use of reserves have made it possible to deliver a balanced budget for 2021/22 and confirm a major capital programme focused on using the council’s financial power to stimulate the local economy and tackle the climate emergency.

A £70m investment will bring forward more social and affordable homes in the district that boast higher sustainability credentials and greater build quality, in tandem with increased requirements on contractors to utilise more environmentally friendly construction methods.  £16m will be invested in regeneration projects to boost the local economy, £6m on maintaining assets and improving leisure facilities and £10m on clean energy schemes.

Councillor Nicholson said:

“We no longer receive any government grant and our emergency Covid-19 funding falls short of what was promised by the Secretary of State, who told leaders like myself all over the county to do whatever it takes during lockdown to deliver essential services, like collecting our bins and providing support for the homeless and vulnerable.

“The government also proposed that we used council tax to fill the financial hole created by Covid-19. No one wants to increase council tax, even by a little bit, but we are also at the same time increasing the support to those on the lowest incomes by providing a 90% discount on the council tax, meaning their council tax bills should reduce.”

71% of council tax bill is paid to East Sussex County Council, while Lewes District Council receives 15%, Sussex Police 9% and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service 5%.  The 3.49%increase planned by East Sussex County Council would mean its portion of a Band D bill increases by £52.02 a year.

Councillor Nicholson added:

“Council income is significantly down and costs have spiralled as demand for our services has shot up. Yet, despite this and the on-going uncertainty, this is a strong budget for recovery, renewal and ethical investments in all our futures.

“I know that the many residents will support our continued delivery of essential services and whilst they might be disappointed with the lack of government support, they will understand such a small increase in the council tax.”   

Full Council will consider the budget on February 22.