Deputy leader prioritises supporting residents, Covid recovery and climate action

The deputy leader of Lewes District Council has vowed to continue prioritising support for people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and ‘not scaling back our ambition’ to tackle the climate crisis in the district’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. 

The comments from Councillor Zoe Nicholson (pictured), who is also Cabinet member for Finance and Assets, came as a rise of less than 10p a week in the council tax was approved at Full Council yesterday (Monday, February 22). 

The increase is limited to 9.6p a week increase, which is just £5 a year in the council’s share of the bill, despite huge extra costs and loss of income as a result of Covid-19. 

Councillor Nicholson presented a 2021/22 budget that stands ‘for investment, recovery and reimaging of what we can do together’ as Covid-related additional spending reached £3.6m with just £2.2m of government support, and the remaining £1.4m achieved only through using reserves and careful budget savings. 

She said: “We choose not to scale back our ambition to address the climate crisis, to address the economic crisis so many families and businesses face. Now would not be the time to scale back our ambitions or our support for our communities and businesses.  

“We have chosen to create a budget in which we put more of our resources where they are needed most and in line with our key priorities. It is a budget to support our residents, environment and our economy. It is a budget in which we provide targeted investments to strengthen the support for those who need it.” 

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. A further £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 also outlined plans to provide full council tax exemption to those suffering from the severest financial hardship. 

She added: “We will be providing a 100% council tax discount to those who most need our support, meaning that thousands of the poorest people in our district will for the first time pay no council tax at all.” 

Councillor Nicholson offered ‘heartfelt sympathies’ to all families in the district who have lost loved ones to the virus and paid tribute to all those in Lewes district who contributed towards the ‘incredible response’ to the pandemic.