About the Town Council
Lewes Town Council is one of the largest 150 of the 9,000-or-so Parish Councils in England and Wales, with a council tax precept for 2012/13 of £782,000 and expenditure budgeted at over £920,000. It is the successor to Lewes Borough Council, which was incorporated in 1881. We are based at the Town Hall, in the High Street, which has been the home of Lewes’ local Council since 1893. We are accredited as a Qulaity Parish under the national scheme that assesses the professionalism of Councils in our sector of local government
The Council comprises eighteen elected members – six representing each of three electoral wards (Bridge, Castle, and Priory), and it employs fifteen staff (7 full-time). Council meets approximately every five weeks and may decide to create working-parties for large projects or short tasks. These can co-opt additional members from the community.
There are four “lead members”: Finance & Policy - Environment & Tourism - Youth & Community, and Communications, who usually act as Chairmen for any working parties set-up within those areas of responsibility, and as our official spokesperson as required. Planning applications are considered by a standing committee that meets every three weeks (to integrate with the cycles of the District Planning Authority), and there are two functional panels for internal matters: Personnel, and Internal Audit/Corporate Governance. A third; the financial Grants Panel, assesses grant applications from voluntary & community sector organizations, and agrees an annual total of over £50,000 in amounts ranging between £50 and £3,000.
We administer The Pells and Lewes Priory (let to a tenant Trust), and run the Town Hall and the All Saints Centre as venues for activities ranging from dance-classes; tai-chi; and toy-libraries, to world-class sculpture exhibitions (Auguste Rodin, Anthony Caro, Henry Moore, David Nash); weddings; and musical and theatre events of all types. We also own the Bridgeview Community Centre, which is let to a tenant (the Malling Community Association). We influence town planning (as a statutory consultee) and tourism, and provide various local amenities such as litter bins; bus-shelters and other street furniture. We offer 200 allotment plots at six sites across the town, and are joint owners of the 44 hectares (approx 110 acres) of open downland at Landport Bottom.
We are empowered to financially support or enhance the local functions of other tiers of government, and other public services, such as financing additional environmental cleansing or providing funds for local Police Community Support Officers. All our expenditure is financed either from reserves, direct from the precept on Council Tax, or from third-party funds such as National Lottery schemes. Borrowing for our sector of government is strictly-controlled and requires the consent of the Secretary of State.
This is a time of change in local government, and Parish Councils face a busier future. We are recognized as the tier closest to the community, whilst District and County Councils play a more strategic role (transport; health; housing; education etc.). In a report by Sir Michael Lyons, commissioned by central government and published in 2007, he argued that local government should be given greater freedom to 'place-shape' – to take responsibility for the well-being of an area and the people who live there.
In future, with the economic climate forcing central government to review the mechanisms and funding of local government at Principal Authority level (County; District and Unitary councils), it is likely that many non-statutory (often called “discretionary”) services; land and property assets etc may be devolved to Parish Councils. Lewes Town Council considers itself well-placed to address any additional responsibilities or duties, and we look forward to the next few years with interest!
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