It’s a hat trick in Mid Sussex!

Thanks to everyone who supported the Liberal Democrats in yesterday’s County Council elections, it seems again the Tories have been wiped out, at least in Burgess Hill!   Existing Burgess Hill and Hassocks Cllr Kirsty Lord increased her majority from just 20 votes to 1,634 votes, and our new Liberal Democrat Councillor for Burgess Hill East is Richard Cherry; and for Burgess Hill North, Stuart Condie, both gaining seats from the Conservatives.   This caps a day which has already seen the announcement of massive support for the Liberal Democrat Town Council’s proposal to build a new arts and entertainment venue, with plans for the Beehive receiving a thumbs up by 2,616 residents – 94% of those participating, and 88% supporting the application for a loan.  Well done Burgess Hill!

Nationally Liberal Democrats held their own against the other parties. However, to put the results into context, reviewing the share of the vote, Liberal Democrats gained 17% of the projected national vote, with 36% for the apparently dominant Conservatives. Progressives have a majority in this country but our electoral system actives favours the Conservatives unless opposition parties work together.

Unfair Council Tax needs reform

Mid Sussex District Council tonight agreed a budget which means total council tax for the average band D tax payer is increasing by 4.9% or £92, and is now over £2,000 for some parishes in Mid Sussex! However most of this is levied by the County Council and Police Authority and the element for Liberal Democrat controlled Burgess Hill Town Council did not increase at all.

Whilst I support the District Council precept this year as Covid has put big holes in the budget, particularly relating to the cost of our leisure centres, where it agreed to use £500,000 from reserves to pay towards a shortfall in running costs, the Council’s share comprises just 9% of the total precept, but the total cost levied by all authorities is equivalent to a third of what the average employed person living in Mid Sussex pays in income tax.

I put forward an amendment to highlight the gross unfairness of Council Tax and the need for reform, and to urge the leader of the Council to write to the government making the case for reform.

Unfortunately the Conservatives voted against it despite their national so called levelling up agenda and it was defeated.

Low earners pay a much greater proportion of their income as council tax which can often be more than they pay in income tax yet not necessarily qualify for any discount – although you should always check your entitlement for council tax benefit if you are on low income or for the various discounts that exist. It is also possible to request payment over 12 months rather than the standard 10

Council tax bands in England are still based on property values in 1991 –30 years ago. Since then the average house price in the South East has risen by over five times. The most valuable property (band H) attracts just three times as much tax as the least valuable, despite being worth at least eight times as much. Because there is no further increment after H, a person in a £600,000 house pays the same as a person in a £5 million house.

There are growing disparities between those who have maintained their incomes during lockdown, and those less fortunate who have suffered financially or are in the squeezed middle or “not quite poor” who don’t qualify for any benefit. It is younger people, those who are just starting out that it hits the hardest, paying a much greater proportion of their income.

The unfairness will only continue to get worse as time elapses, solutions such as revaluation, adding more tiers at the higher end or replacing with a more progressive tax system are all viable options. Yet for Mid Sussex Conservatives their main objection to the proposal was encapsulated by Cllr Webster – “on the clear basis of fairness I can’t support this at all”!