The poll cards are popping through the doors and candidates are starting to knock on doors, plus you will have probably got your council tax bill for next year.  Its election time again.

On Thursday 2nd May there are elections for Lewes District Council and for town and parish councils.

This article is about the elections for Lewes District Council. The Eye hopes to deal with town and parish councils later.

THE LEWES DISTRICT COUNCIL AREA

The council covers East Saltdean, Telscombe, Peacehaven, Newhaven, Seaford, Ringmer, Lewes, Newick, Chailey, Ditchling Wivelsfield and the Ouse Valley.

WHAT DOES LEWES DISTRICT COUNCIL DO?

We have lots of councils in our neck of the woods, all with different jobs. These are the main things that Lewes District Council is responsible for

  • Housing- overall strategy and the provision of council housing
  • Planning (but in Lewes Town and other places in the national park the National Park Authority decides on big or controversial schemes)
  • Refuse and street cleaning
  • Housing Benefit and Council Tax benefit, collecting council tax
  • Recreation, parks and playing fields
  • Pub and other licences
  • Environmental Health

So your vote could make a difference to these things.

The council does not control Trains buses, roads, street lighting, education, social services, footpaths, the NHS, or Brexit, so your vote will not influence what happens to these things.

WHO IS IN WITH A CHANCE?

Some individuals stand without promoting themselves and some parties feel they ought to stand a candidate even if they don’t stand a chance of winning.  It is probably fair to say that if you have not had even a leaflet through your door from a candidate by about the end of the first week of April, then they probably are not taking the election seriously and a vote for them would not make any difference to the result.

WHAT SHOULD I MAKE OF THE LEAFLETS FROM CANDIDATES?  WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK PEOPLE IF THEY KNOCK ON MY DOORS?

Yes, it’s tempting to ignore the whole thing.  Isn’t day to day survival difficult enough?  But if you or members of your family can’t find anywhere to live, if someone gets permission to build something ghastly next to your place, or your bins don’t get emptied-  and you didn’t vote, you can hardly complain.

Vote for us or bad people will get in!

A number of parties will tell you that it is either them or another party which you won’t like.  These claims are rarely true. You can check out the results at the last election here

Ignoring the vague and trivial

It is easy for candidates to tell you they will ensure that something is done about litter, dog mess and graffiti.  Let’s face it, everyone is against litter, dog mess and graffiti.  It is easy to make vague general promises too.  But where do the candidates stand on the bigger and more difficult issues and what exactly would they do about them?

And if the candidate says “I will work hard” what does that mean?  Does anyone ever say on leaflet “I will lie about and pick up the allowances?”

Big Issues

Below are some important issues which are the responsibility of Lewes District Council

The Social Cleansing of the district

It affects all of us.   Even if we have a home our children and other relatives are affected

If you want to buy somewhere prices are outrageous.  The very smallest flat in the cheapest parts of the district is likely to cost you £150,000 and up. This is far beyond the reach of most first time buyers.

As council houses are sold off there are fewer and fewer secure homes to rent. Those that are rented out are on often at rents which are only slightly less than the grossly inflated private rents. We live in a low wage high rent area and the gap between rich and poor is growing.

So people are forced to leave.  Increasingly, if you are not well off, you can’t live here.

Although a lot of this is beyond the control of the council there are things that they could do. These include:

  • Cracking down on unauthorised holiday lets and increasing taxation on second homes to make more homes available to local people.
  • Adopting planning policies that require developers to provide rented housing at prices people can actually afford, as opposed to near-market rents, as Lewes  TOWN Council has done.
  • Making private landlord register and checking that they meet environmental health standards.
  • Building more council homes (some work has been done, but nowhere near enough)
  • Prioritising in planning policies the building of small dwellings with level access so that older people with mobility issues can downsize, freeing up larger places.  (For example, in the Lewes North Street development there are no planned small flats with lifts except in a care home style development. This is really not the way to do things)

What does the candidate think should be done to stop the social cleansing of the district?

Special expenses

You have probably got a council tax statement through your door recently.  You may have noticed a payment for “special expenses”.  This is a charge for services that the council only think your town or area benefits from, like local sports grounds or parks.

This idea seems to have come about because the council wanted to cut the “main” council tax rate to make it look low, but it is an odd idea.  Should people living inland not have to pay for sea defences, or are we all in this together?  And if the facilities are just for people in one town why is the district council hanging on to them?  Why not hand them over to town councils?

What does the candidate think about this?

The merger with Eastbourne Council

Administratively, Lewes and Eastbourne Councils are pretty much one council, although they still have different councillors.  This arrangement is designed to save money but it has been a disaster for residents.

  • You can’t contact the council. It is hard to find the phone number so you can speak to someone (it is 01273 471600).  If you can get through (often difficult) you are likely to end up speaking to someone who does not know anything about what you are phoning about. The officer you want to speak to may well be in Eastbourne that day, or in transit between Lewes and Eastbourne.
  • Experienced staff who knew their area and their jobs have left in despair. You can read a statement from one here. There are fewer staff and they are forced to spend their time between Lewes and Eastbourne. You are not going to get an understanding of the problems of your area from someone who has spent their working life in Eastbourne.  As an example of this, you may have noticed an increase in rough sleeping.  There is one officer tasked with responding to this.  They spent 4 days in Eastbourne and 1 in Lewes, before going off sick (possibly from stress) and their work is being covered by someone in Eastbourne who is already doing their own job and covering for someone else as well.
  • Even though Eastbourne and Lewes District are very different areas, policies are unified to make things administratively easier. For example, the criteria for getting a council house is now the same in both Eastbourne and Lewes District, even though needs may be very different.  Obviously local councillors have less control when this happens. You may be the subject of a policy that works in Eastbourne but does not work here.
  • The councils may have a facility for something, but it may be in Eastbourne. For example in very cold days in winter the councils opened an emergency shelter for destitute people, but it was in Eastbourne. How were people expected to get there?

What does the candidate think about this and how would they solve these problems?

 The Cabinet System

This system, which was introduced by a Labour government under Tony Blair, concentrates power in the hands of a few people.  Instead of most decisions being taken by all the council members at a council meeting, most are taken  by a small “cabinet”. Some decisions are not even decided by cabinet but by the leader of the council and the chief executive working together.  Currently all the members of the cabinet are Conservatives, even though they do not hold the majority of seats on the council.  The idea was that councils would be more efficient, if less democratic.  In practice the decisions are simply taken by a smaller group of fools.  The 49 sites debacle, where the council tried to sell large chunks of the property it owns, is a fine example of this.

Councils can chose not to adopt this system. Brighton and Hove Council does not use it.

Would the candidate get rid of the cabinet system?

Penalising the poorest

Lewes District Council decides how the very poorest group of people, including low paid workers and the self-employed should be helped to pay their council tax.  The council has adopted a system which penalises the very poorest

It also penalises the self-employed.

What does the candidate think about this?

Government Cuts- paying more for less

Local councils are funded partly by taxes collected by government and partly by council tax.  In recent years the government has made huge cuts to the amount of your  general taxes  that it collects and passes on to councils, which means you pay more council tax for fewer and worse services.  (The same is happening with the police.  You may have noticed that the amount in your council tax bill for policing has gone up, but there are fewer police)

Now the district council can’t control what the government does, but it could campaign loudly and publicly on this issue, making clear where the money has gone.

Will the candidate support such a campaign and take part in it?

Contacting candidates

You can contact existing councilors here

But bear in mind that they may not be standing again.  You could ask them to pass your message on to their potential successor.  Political parties will have local web sites. Search for  Lewes (name of party). These should have contact details.  For candidates not standing for a political party you may have to rely on their leaflets through your door.

Don’t accept bland or general replies. If someone wants to stand for council they should be able to give you a detailed response on any of the issues in this article.

Its particularly important to quiz independent candidates.  Does “Independent” mean “I have a clear vision for bettering our area not shared by political parties” (If so what is it?) or “I  can’t get on with anyone else and will do whatever I feel like on the day”?

IT IS YOUR AREA.  IF YOU DON’T VOTE, DON’T MOAN.

Town and Parish Councils

You will also have the opportunity to vote for town and parish councils.  The Lewes Eye hopes to run an article about this later.

Article written 21/3/2019