Council leader’s support for ‘most vulnerable’ central to first budget speech

In her inaugural budget speech as Leader of Lewes District Council, Councillor Zoe Nicholson put support for the most vulnerable residents at the top of her agenda.

The budget is the first since the Co-operative Alliance took control of the council in July 2019 and made a commitment to helping people on the lowest incomes in communities and tackling the climate crisis, described by Councillor Nicholson as ‘not just a nice idea, it’s a necessity’.

Councillor Nicholson was speaking at a meeting of Full Council (24/2/20) at County Hall in Lewes.

She said:

“The reality is that those most vulnerable in our community have seen the divide between rich and poor get wider. Over the last ten years we have seen more people living on lower incomes in our communities, more people waiting for council housing and more children living in poverty.  This is indefensible and has to change.”

With no increases in the council’s housing stock since 2016, the council leader has committed to investing £79m in the building of 200 new homes over the next four years and a raft of improvements to existing properties.

Councillor Nicholson said:

“It’s heart breaking to see the numbers of people needing a council home growing, but with no short-term prospect of being able to house them.  In the last quarter alone, there were 39 families in emergency accommodation. 

“We will invest an additional £1.2 million per year to support families, other households and young people in housing need and tackle rough sleeping.  And a further £500,000 per year will enhance and improve our services to our tenants, tackling anti-social behaviour, supporting vulnerable households and improving our neighbourhoods.”

The Co-operative Alliance declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and moved quickly to accelerate plans to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions and make the district climate resilient by 2030.

Councillor Nicholson added:

“We will invest £500,000, in addition to the £100,000 already allocated, to put into action our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint in our housing stock.  We will work with other local authorities to use our financial firepower as social landlord to create local jobs, skill up local people to learn how to retrofit our own housing stock, reduce carbon emissions and create warmer cheaper homes for our tenants.”

The Co-operative Alliance will also invest in tree planting, rewilding in our green spaces, air quality monitoring and natural flood protection measures.

Councillor Nicholson said:

“We have set out an ambitious budget, a budget that targets the highest priorities in the district.  However, the challenges we face after ten years of austerity politics are huge, a decade that has seen our grant from government, the grant that funded local services, reduced to zero. 

“Despite these unprecedented financial pressures, I am proud that we have delivered a balanced budget, without cuts to frontline services, and limited the increase of the council tax to just 9p a week for family living in a Band D home.”