East Sussex councillors have signed off plans to increase council tax this coming year.

East Sussex County Council agreed its budget plans for the 2023/24 financial year, proposals which included both a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax and a two per cent increase in the council’s adult social care precept.

When combined, the increases will see an average band D council taxpayer pay £1,693.80 to East Sussex County Council in 2023/24 — a figure which comes to £32.57 per week.

Cllr Nick Bennett, the council’s lead member for resources and climate change, said: “Our residents continue to face the impacts of the cost of living crisis [and] the proposal to increase council tax is not taken lightly. 

“But we have to protect our services now and for the future. Demand for services, particularly in children services, continue to grow and we have little choice but to increase local taxation.”

The increase marks the 10th year in a row that ESCC has increased its share of council tax. With some notable exceptions, other East Sussex authorities have also mostly increased their share of the bill during this period. 

Assuming other local authorities — including police and fire services — also increase their share for the coming year, most band D residents can expect their annual council tax bills to be somewhere between £2,220 and £2,311 in 2023/24 (although final figures may vary). 

For comparison, a band D council taxpayer would have paid somewhere between £1,539.77 and £1,614.43 in 2013/14 and paid between £2,131 to £2,219.29 in 2022/23. 

No new savings were included in the approved budget, although previously planned savings of around £937,000 will fall in the year.

Even with the latest increase, the council’s financial plans identify a £41 million funding gap by 2025, unless more support is given to the council by central government. Cllr Bennett said further lobbying would be necessary to ensure this support was secured.

Before the budget was agreed, the Conservative majority council voted down an amendment, which had been jointly put forward by the Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent Democrat opposition groups.

The amendment called for additional spending totalling £4.93m, with all but £25,000 of this figure to be funded from the council’s 2023/24 Revenue Support Grant. The remaining money was intended to come from renting out part of County Hall, the council’s headquarters in Lewes. 

Liberal Democrat leader David Tutt said: “The value of this property as real estate, in a prime location in Lewes, is considerable.

“I don’t actually mind if it is sold as an entire building or leased out to other organisations, but at the moment this building is the Mary Celeste of buildings. If you come into it on any day other than a county council meeting it is virtually empty.”

He added: “We would like to have put far more [than the £25,000], but without the commitment of the administration we can’t do that. 

“I implore [council leader Keith] Glazier once again to look at the value that is locked into this building and the surrounding grounds and to utilise that money for the benefit of the residents of East Sussex.” 

The additional spending proposed in the joint amendment included £1m for additional pothole patching and pavement repairs, £800,000 for the council’s Special Education and Disability Need service and £700,000 for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

It also called for £615,000 to reduce the cost of transport for day service users and £628,500 to increase the provision of non-residential adult mental health services by five per cent.

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Other spending areas included a £125,000 budget to hire climate change officers, an £80,000 budget for a food policy officers and a £6,500 budget to reverse an increase to the charges for using the council’s travellers’ sites.

These proposals came under fire from Conservatives, however, who argued that they amounted to ‘irresponsible’ spending due to its basis in one-off funding.

Ultimately, the amendment was voted down, with the Conservative administration’s original budget proposals approved shortly afterwards.