Council agrees to freeze tax in new budget proposal

Eastbourne Town Hall SUS-140924-144506001
Eastbourne Town Hall SUS-140924-144506001

A budget proposal that would have seen £1 million pledged to help local people start up businesses was turned down at an Eastbourne Borough Council meeting last week.

At the full council meeting on Wednesday, February 18, Cllr Gill Mattock presented the budget proposal for 2015/16, which included a freeze on council tax for a fifth year.

It also promised to maintain grants to voluntary organisations to the tune of £263k, continue to fund the devolved budget scheme, which gives each ward £10k to spend on community projects, and keep up the Economic Regeneration Fund, which started in 2012 and has since been used for a variety of projects that has helped Eastbourne weather the economic recession, such as the street market and supporting both the Town Team and the annual tennis event, among other projects.

However, the Conservative party put forward an amendment to the budget proposal that planned to take £1m from the council’s reserves and use it to help local people with business potential set up in the town. The money would be made available in grants or loans and subject to tested business plans. The fund would also be ring-fenced to Eastbourne post codes.

The business fund would support budding entrepreneurs, allowing them to grow their business within Eastbourne as opposed to moving it elsewhere in the UK. This would create jobs for local people and help regenerate the town by giving priority to filling existing empty properties in the town.

Cllr Caroline Ansell said, “This money is not our money, it’s public money. It’s not easy setting up a business, so let’s make it easier. Let’s not just throw fish at them but let’s buy them a fishing rod!”

In response, Cllr Mattock said, “When we took control of this council in 2007, the finances were in a poor state. By careful budgeting and monitoring, we have slowly built them up and now have a reasonable balance in our reserves.

“We are anticipating further cuts to the government grant we get, possibly as much as another 40 per cent over the next three years. Our reserves will stand us in good stead to face those challenges as well as to contribute to our ambitious plans.

“There have been numerous opportunities since last October to submit this amendment. You know we can’t change a plan that has taken four months to construct in just a half hour discussion without any reference to our finance chief.”

The £1m would represent 25 per cent of the money in the council’s reserves.

The amendment was refused by 13 votes to ten with one abstention. The original budget proposal for 2015/16 was voted for by 21 votes, with none against and three abstentions.