Lewes Town Council is one of the 300 largest of the 9,800-or-so Parish Councils in England and Wales, with expenditure budgeted at over £1million. 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.
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The Council comprises eighteen elected members – six representing each of three electoral wards (Bridge, Castle, and Priory), and it employs fourteen staff (8 full-time). Council meets approximately every five weeks and often creates 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, and there are 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 £2,000.
We own The Pells, where the open-air pool is operated for us each summer by a local community charity, and Lewes Priory (let to a tenant Trust). We own and operate the Town Hall and the All Saints Centre - run as venues for hire, and offering activities ranging from dance-classes; tai-chi; cinema, and a toy-library, 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 (Malling) Community Centre, which is managed for us by the Malling Community Association. We influence town planning and tourism, and provide various local amenities such as litter bins; bus-shelters and other street furniture. We offer more than 200 allotment plots over our seven sites across the town, and are joint owners of the 44 hectares (approx 110 acres) of open downland at Landport Bottom.
We can 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 or CCTV (we pay for the cameras in the town). All our expenditure is financed either direct from our precept on Council Tax, from reserves 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 an even busier future with the latest initiatives focussed upon localism. 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.). Parishes can have a more active role, if they want it, than at any time since the last “big” local government reorganization in 1974.
With the economic climate forcing reviews of 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!