Has Rother Council really balanced its budget when it’s raiding its reserves?

From: Paul Courtel, Amherst Road, Bexhill

Friday, 8th March 2019, 9:16 am
Updated Monday, 11th March 2019, 9:00 am
Bexhill Town Hall SUS-161205-111335001

Watching Rother’s Full Council meeting from the visitors’ seats last Monday (February 25), I was struck by the torrent of fake news emanating from the current council leader.

During the debate on the draft revenue budget for 2019/20, he stated that the Conservatives were delivering a “balanced” budget. Really?

According to a document headed ‘Earmarked Reserves’, on page 19 of the papers presented to Cabinet on December 19, 2018, Rother is raiding its reserves by £2,362,000 in 2019/20 “to balance its budget”.

He then claimed that Labour-controlled Hastings Borough Council has a Council Tax that’s 40 per cent higher than Conservative-controlled Rother. This is grossly misleading.

I have added Bexhill “Special Expenses” to Rother’s Council Tax. I have also added the Council Tax precept in several Town and Parish Councils in the Rother countryside to Rother’s Council Tax. When the Council Tax from East Sussex County Council, the Police and the Fire Service are added, the Council Tax levied to households in various parts of Rother varies from the Council Tax levied in Hastings for the same Council Tax band by two per cent up or down.

The Council Leader also accused Bexhill Labour Party of proposing to take a vast amount out of the precept to fund its proposal of introducing a 100 per cent Council Tax reduction for the poorest Rother residents. Currently, the Council Tax of the poorest Rother residents is reduced by 80 per cent.

However, Hastings achieves a 100 per cent reduction.

I’m in possession of the number of households claiming the 80 per cent reduction in each tax band.

The total potential revenue to Rother from this group is a mere £60,775.

However, this amount is not collected. Most residents who are summoned to a court hearing are issued ‘a liability order’ to be paid out of their meagre resources. This is creating massive hardship to residents who struggle to eat, heat their homes and clothe their families. It also results in evictions, referrals to expensive temporary accommodation that is paid by Rother Council, as well as street homelessness.

A Conservative leader who has presided over a council that made a loss of £56,000 on the Colonnade restaurant in its first weeks of opening, in addition the £288,000 refurbishment bill, and which is raiding its reserves by a massive £2,400,000 “to balance its budget” is ill-equipped to lecture to Bexhill Labour Party on financial prudence.