Referendum threat would limit big council tax rises

Uckfield voters would have to approve in a referendum any future rise in council tax above a figure set by the government.

A proposal for an increase of above two per cent, or £5 for band D payers, would trigger a referendum to decide the issue, under current proposals.

The government is consulting on the idea, which would affect most town and parish councils in the country. It would bring these lower tier authorities into line with the way council tax rises are regulated for county and district councils.

Town councillors would like the introduction of the scheme to be put back at least a year to 2018/19 while it investigates the likely costs of providing services which may be devolved by the county and district councils.

Cost Brighton an “arm and leg”

Members of the council’s general purposes thought the plan they were being asked to comment on was a fait accompli and felt it would be pointless asking people to vote in a referendum for an increase bigger than two per cent.

Cllr Diane Ward, committee chairman, Trust Independent, Uckfield Central, said Brighton and Hove City Council had gone to a referendum over the precept and it had cost the council an “absolute arm and leg”.

She said people would not vote for big increases in the council tax.

Cllr Mick Dean, Trust Independent, New Town, said: “It is going to be a done deal. The longer they can put it off the better. A referendum is not an option.”

Town mayor, Cllr Louise Eastwood, Trust Independent, Uckfield North, said the council should ask for the introduction of the scheme be put back a year because the town council wanted to know what services it will have to pick up. “Extending the deadline would give us a better understanding of what we are putting the cap on,” she said.

Extra responsibilities

Cllr Paul Meakin, Liberal Democrat, Central, said the report before them said that where councils took on extra responsibilities they would not be subject to a referendum if the two per cent cap was exceeded. He said the limit of two per cent (or £5) was set too low.

Councillors agreed to respond to the consultation by asking the government, if the scheme was to go ahead, for an appropriate timescale so the council could understand the financial commitments that might be needed if services were devolved from higher authorities. Consideration of the cap by the government should take account that town and parish councils may have to provide more services.

*Last year the Uckfield Town Council portion of the council tax rose by 2.1 per cent but only £3.10 for a Band D council taxpayer and would not have been subject to a referendum, if the current proposals were in place.

*Uckfield has has had recent experience of a referendum when residents asked for a vote on the High Street parking as part of the roadworks. This was properly called a Parish Poll. The question asked was: The question asked in the Parish Poll was: “Do you support the removal of current on-street parking provision in Uckfield High Street?” It resulted in a No vote.

Members of the general purposes committee present at the meeting were

Chair: Cllr Diane Ward, Trust Independent, Central
Vice-chair: Cllr Jackie Love, Trust Independent, Uckfield North

Other members:

Cllr Mick Dean, Trust Independent, New Town
Cllr Louise Eastwood, Trust Independent, North
Cllr Keith Everett, Independent, Ridgewood
Cllr Helen Firth, Conservative, Central
Cllr Paul Meakin, Liberal Democrat, Central
Cllr Ian Smith, Independent, Ridgewood

Apologies:

Cllr James Anderson, Trust Independent, North

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