Short shrift for alternative Eastbourne council budget

AN alternative budget to ‘put the sparkle back in Eastbourne’ was put forward by Tory councillors this week – moments before the Lib Dems presented the annual spending plan.

Eastbourne Borough Council’s annual budget was produced before the full council meeting on Wednesday evening (February 22) but Cllr David Elkin, leader of the Conservative opposition, presented a lengthy document on the evening which suggested changes.

The Tories made a last-ditch attempt to allocate money for a refurbishment for the Wish Tower Restaurant and a facelift for the Congress Theatre, which has been covered in scaffolding for nearly two years.

However, their pleas were rejected by the Lib Dems and the original budget presented by Cllr Gill Mattock, deputy leader of the council, was taken forward.

The budget approved at Wednesday’s meeting means council tax will not rise for Eastbourne residents this year and the council has stressed there will be no cuts to front line services.

Cllr Mattock said a lot of hard work had gone in to the budget and explained many savings had been made. She described the council as ‘slimmer and trimmer’ and said cost-cutting measures included saving £360,000 a year by moving out of the Grove Road offices, and listed online training for councillors and officers as another money-saving initiative.

Cllr Mattock said, “I’m a person who lives within my means, saves for a rainy day and doesn’t take financial risks and I have done the same with this council.”

The Tory alternative budget had suggested using £453,000 to turn the Wish Tower Restaurant into an educational facility instead of pulling it down and £50,000 to fund an initiative for the regeneration of town centre shops.

Cllr Elkin said the Conservatives would take the money from the £672,000 the Lib Dems proposed to put away in a regeneration reserve fund.

The Tories also said the council should reallocate £350,000 of the £506,000 currently earmarked for the Town Hall roof repairs to give The Congress Theatre a much-needed facelift.

Cllr Elkin said, “Our budget is designed to put that sparkle back in to Eastbourne. We have two major projects as part of operation sparkle. Both on or around our unique seafront, certainly the best Victorian seafront in the world.”

The Tories also suggested using £70,000 to pay for a dog warden and asset management programme but Cllr Mattock said it was a speculative figure.

She told Cllr Elkin, “I am so glad you know how much solar panels are going to make for us because we don’t know how much they are going to make yet.

“We don’t even know how many hours of sunshine we are going to get so you can’t possibly put a figure on it.

“This £70,000 is a speculative figure. I am sure we could make use of the extra money, but we can’t spend what we don’t yet have.”

Members of the council from both parties paid tribute to Cllr Mattock and her five months of hard work on the budget.

She told the Tories she welcomed their suggestions and added, “It is a shame you didn’t contribute earlier so we could have taken them in to consideration. Please do so next year because I do genuinely welcome that.”