For some years, each local council has had to decide how to help poorer people under pension age pay their council tax. They do this by agreeing a scheme to reduce the amount of tax payable, depending on people’s incomes- The less income you have the more your council tax is reduced.
That is, unless you are self-employed. After a year of self-employment you are assumed to be earning at least the amount you would earn if you worked full time for the minimum wage, even if you are earning very little or even making a loss.
Independent council member has been campaigning to end this rule for some time. She is now a member of the cooperative alliance of various parties and independents that now controls the council, with 22 members against the Conservative opposition’s 19.
It looks like she persuaded her colleagues to change the rules because when, on 24th February the council voted on the council tax help scheme for the year starting in April it had before it a proposal to change the rule for self-employed people so that their benefit worked out on their actual income, like everyone else.
To pay for this change, it was proposed to stop exempting landlords from having to pay council tax when their property was empty. (At the moment they do not have to pay for the first four weeks that their property is empty.)
WINNERS AND LOSERS
So the self-employed win and landlords lose.
The Conservative opposition group decided to oppose this change according to an email that has been copied to the Eye.
But the change went through by 21 votes to 11 with two abstentions. You can see the debate and the vote here What you cannot see is who voted, because the council does not record votes unless someone requests this.
Two alliance councillors were not at the meeting, so the most votes they had were 20. Where did the other vote come from?
It looks like it came from Conservative Lynda Duhigg, because the Eye has been sent an email which purports to be from Conservative leader Isabelle Linington to Cllr Duhigg which is dated 25/2/20 and says
“ Dear Lynda
I was surprised last night when you voted for the Council tax Reduction Scheme vote. Having been told that the group view was that we should oppose this scheme, why did you then vote for it? Your fellow members were very angry.
We need to be united, and stay united, in front of the alliance and the public.
I want your explanation and hope this will never happen again. Happy to discuss by phone if you prefer”
The Eye has not been able to check the veracity of the email, but both Cllr Duhigg and Cllr Linington have been asked for comment.
INDISCIPLINE, OR VOTING ACCORDING TO CONCIENCE?
If Councilor Linington wants to whip her group into line it looks as though she will have to deal with more than just Cllr Duhigg. With three of their councillors not attending, their maximum vote was 16. But only 11 members voted against the proposal. If Cllr Duhigg voted against they should have been able to muster 15 votes against. It looks like two further Conservatives abstained and two further managed to absent themselves from the vote. In all 8 out of 19 Conservative councillors did not vote for the leader’s policy. But perhaps this is a good thing.
Ironically, the Conservatives are campaigning against the council tax rise, voted through in the same meeting, on the grounds that it would hit the poorest tax payers. They are right about this, because of the policy of the last Conservative administration, which means that no one can get any help with the first 20% of their council tax. The Eye has been critical of the alliance administration for not changing this policy too. They have said that they will consider this change in future.
Lewes District Councilor Sean Macleod resigned from the Green Party on 11/3/20 citing, amongst other things the council tax rise and the effect on staff of budget cuts. He will sit as an independent.
COUNCIL PARTS COMPANY WITH IT CONTRACTOR
In other news at the meeting, it was reported that the council has parted company with its IT provider. This was apparently an matter that had to be decided urgently.
The Eye does not know whether or not this is the result of a number of apparent IT bogups which the Eye understands may have resulted in failure to report the income of employees and members to the Inland Revenue, which the Eye believes resulted in a fine, and the apparent failure of the council to issue rent statements to its tenants.