Average council tax bills could rise by at least £47 a year across East Sussex

LEWES. County Hall SUS-150522-151022001
LEWES. County Hall SUS-150522-151022001
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An extra £47.84 a year could be added to average council tax bills across East Sussex from April.

East Sussex County Council is proposing to increase its precept by 3.99 per cent, the equivalent of £47.84 a year for a Band D property in order to generate an extra £4.7m as it deals with added budget pressures and cuts to the funding it receives from central Government.

In the last two years the authority has voted for 1.95 per cent increases, following four years of council tax freezes.

The announcement comes as all six political leaders at the council have united to sign a letter to the Prime Minister voicing ‘significant concerns’ over Government funding cuts to local authorities.

Keith Glazier, Tory leader of ESCC, said: “The fact that leaders of all parties have put their names to this letter shows that this is an issue which transcends politics.

“We have done everything possible to ensure we bear our share of the burden of reducing the national deficit, and produce a balanced and responsible budget, but the savings we are now having to make will place a heavy burden on some of our residents.

“We’re calling on the Government to acknowledge the impact of funding cuts, particularly on social care authorities, to work more closely with local councils and to adopt a fairer approach to the way it allocates funding.”

In the letter to David Cameron, Cllr Glazier said the cuts the authority was facing would ‘significantly reduce the quality of life for many people in East Sussex’, and suggested that some of the initiatives the Government believed could be relied on by councils to balance their budgets sustainable ‘are not realistic’.

He said: “There appears to be misunderstanding in relation to the nature of council reserves, the ability to make significant further efficiencies, the likely returns from further sharing of services and the ability to raise income. East Sussex has huge infrastructure challenges which affect our ability to grow the economy by generating sustainable job opportunities and business growth.”

The 3.99 per cent increase includes a two per cent ‘social care levy’, but ESCC is already looking at cutting £40m from what it spends in the department over the next three years, as it looks to cut between £70 and £90m by April 2019.

The letter explains that East Sussex will see its over 85 population increase by 7.5 per cent in the next three years, while the council also faces the additional pressure coming from the introduction of the National Living Wage.

It continues: “The cuts will significantly reduce the quality of life for many people in East Sussex. Our proposed cuts have to include preventative services which, while offering a short term saving, will cost the taxpayer more in the medium term.”

The six leaders have called for the Government to revisit the grant distribution for future years, to understand the impact of the financial constraints on residents, and work in partnership with councils on future arrangements for other streams of funding and income.

The letter was signed by David Tutt, Liberal Democrat group leader, Trevor Webb, Labour group leader, Philip Howson, UKIP group leader. Stephen Shing, Independent Democrats group leader, and Ruth O’Keeffe, Independent group leader.

Cllr Glazier added: “The money we’d raise by increasing council tax would not alter the fact we’re facing very severe financial pressures, but it would allow us to preserve some valued services.

“Asking people to pay more of their hard earned money is not something we take lightly, which is why we’ll be looking very carefully at this proposal before any decision is made.”

The budget proposals and the council plan for 2016-17 will be discussed at cabinet on Tuesday,January 26 before being put to a vote of the Full Council on Tuesday February 9.

Across the border West Sussex County Council is proposing a similar 3.95 per cent increase, while Sussex Police is looking to add an extra 3.4 per cent to its element of council tax.

Most borough and districts councils across East Sussex have yet to signal their intention for 2016/17, but Rother District Council has indicated it is considering a 1.94 per cent increase.

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