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District Council Roundup: Council Tax, Assets, And The Coastal Economy

December 8th 2016

Tedder Hall  
The district council met on Wednesday, 7th December at Tedder Hall for full council. There were some important items on the agenda, although nothing quite as contentious as the vote on devolution.

The Leader's report by Councillor Craig Leyland included some details on a forthcoming review of post 16 education. Sixth form provision had been left out of the post 16 review, so Cllr Leyland wrote "It is my intention to initiate a review specifically of sixth form school provision led by the GLEP." This is something that Councillor Sarah Dodds has been pressing for, so it's welcome news.

Asset Management

The Asset Management Scrutiny Report was released, which looked at the council's policy towards its assets. The council holds a great deal of these, worth around 80 million. 33.1% of these are leisure assets run by Magna Vitae, and 22.4% are car parks.

Councillor Dodds, who wrote the report, emphasised the importance of looking at the community value of assets as well as their potential for profit.

The report's recommendations include creating an Asset Management Group to look at the repairs and maintenance programme, giving weight to community needs and priorities when making decisions about assets, and that responsibility for asset management should rest equally between Portfolio Councillors for Economic Development.

After councillors accepted this report the council considered the Asset Management Framework 2016-2026. This document sets out the council's policy towards maintenance, disposal of surplus assets, and ELDC's strategy towards its assets. The policy mentions that the council aims to have no surplus assets that have remained surplus for longer than two years, by March 2022. I raised the concern that this could lead to disposing of assets in a hurry at less than best value for residents.

Another point of note is that currently 8.5% of assets are described as in "poor" (7.5%) or "bad" (1%) condition, and the aim is to bring all assets up to a satisfactory standard. Councillor Jill Makinson-Sanders asked whether this policy towards maintenance would "change the habit of a lifetime."

When I visited the Louth Cattle Market for its Annual Christmas Fatstock show it was notable that the roof remains in a very poor state of repair, so clearly ELDC has a way to go before this policy is implemented.

Council Tax Support Scheme

ELDC's Council Tax Support Scheme has to be voted on annually, and the proposal on the table was to make no changes to the current scheme. This means that working age residents are liable to pay at least 25% of their bills, and that people over pension age, war disablement pensioners, and war widows and widowers will be protected.

Current collection rates are just a little over 97% and have been for the past three years. However, the level of tax is certain to go up as parish, district, and county councils increase their precepts to make up for central government cuts and other uncertainties. The collection figure may seem reasonable, but any slippage in that is evidence of people slipping into debt and struggling with severe money worries.

Councillor Dodds backed up my points, expressing concerns about the unfair burden on working families imposed by this regime, and said she couldn't support it.

The council voted to continue with the existing scheme, so hard-pressed taxpayers will just have to hope for a change in central government policy when it comes to local government finance. Under the Tories that seems like a distant fairy tale, much like the twinkling of street lights after midnight.

Coastal Economy

Councillor Steve Kirk, Portfolio holder for Coastal Economy, gave a verbal presentation of his work that began with a damning confession. "We have failed the coast," he said.

However, he then went on to outline plans to revive the coastal economy, in particular looking at job growth and all-year tourism. The coast gets 4.5 million visitors a year, nearly half of them going to Skegness, with 600 million spent on tourism locally.

These are some of the key suggestions:
  • Micro-business grants
  • Viewing the sea as an opportunity as well as a threat, and investigating using hard sea defences as attractions
  • A private member's bill in Parliament to rescind planning permissions that haven't been built could mean that market housing can be built out on the coast
  • ELDC itself building exemplar chalet parks that can be occupied all year round.
During the debate I asked about the plans for coastal events, and how they would be spread out along the coast. Councillor Kirk's response was interesting: both more and bigger events were asked for by nearly all businesses on the coast.

Cross-party, Councillor Kirk's presentation was broadly welcomed. Councillor Neil Cooper, who heads the planning committee, raised doubts about the market housing plans. East Lindsey's Local Plan is clear about avoiding putting any extra market housing on a flood plain.

The whiff of money

It was encouraging to hear the suggestions for investment in local tourism, particularly in the context of the coastal strip which has suffered deep levels of government under-investment and has high deprivation and worklessness to contend with, as well as a very seasonal employment market. Sometimes the whiff of money is almost as important as the money itself, because it encourages other organisations to invest.

No business is possible without the trust that we all have that money will be available somewhere in the economy to pay for all the work being put in. This is one of the reasons austerity has been such an abject failure: it strips people of the hope of more money to be made.

Whilst I do welcome the prospect of investment, it has to be a cautious welcome because I'll believe it when I see it. Unfortunately the reckless attitude that Tory central government has towards local council funding has made it hard to trust that they will provide the backing that schemes such as those outlined above will need to go ahead.



 


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