'It's time to give Worthing Council tax payers their money back', that's the loud and clear message from Worthing Conservative Councillors on hearing the news that Worthing Borough Council is to receive a windfall VAT refund of over £2.5 million from the HMRC.
That’s the fully funded and committed pledge from Worthing Conservatives as they launch their campaign for the May 2023 Worthing Borough Council elections.
In 2011 with the support of the previous Conservative administration, Worthing Borough Council joined other local authorities from across the UK to challenge the HMRC’s ruling that it must pay VAT on income from leisure services. Following an unsuccessful campaign of fighting this in the courts the HMRC have now accepted the Upper Tribunal rejection of their position and are now working to agree the final amounts to be repaid. In Worthing alone this could amount to a substantial sum between £2.5 and £3 million pounds.
Commenting on this ruling Cllr Kevin Jenkins, leader of Conservative opposition group on Worthing Borough Council said;
"We always hoped that the decision would go in favour of the local councils and it has, but now is not the time to simply sit back and put all this money in the reserves. This Labour led council has just been thrown a lifeline that they weren't expecting and frankly don't deserve. Over the last year they have sat back and navel gazed, thinking about what to do now they have control of the council. This has cost over £250k of local tax payers money in interest charges and to add insult to that, they have increased their own Councillor allowances twice in that time. The most recent increases saw permitted increases of a whopping 64% for many of their members. As one Labour Councillor (Cllr Hermitage) said in the Council chamber when debating the increases, 'The allowance is a nice bonus…' "
On top of this the Labour Council have only last week published plans to increase car park charges across the town centre and in the multi-storey car parks for the first two hours by a massive 30%.
At the council tax setting budget meeting on the 21st February the Conservative group tabled a fully funded budget amendment to the Labour proposed 2.99% increase in council tax, proposing that there should be no increase in council tax for 2023/24 with a detailed plan to show that it was not required and that it was fundamentally wrong when so many in our community were struggling to meet their bills.
Cllr Jenkins said "We proposed that at a time when residents and businesses across our whole community were feeling the cumulative effect of inflation, with increases in the price of food and everyday items, coupled with significant rises in fuel costs. It was time for Worthing Borough Council to act decisively by delivering the same level of service with less and not place any further burden on our already hard pressed residents and businesses, many who struggle on a daily basis. We therefore proposed that for 2023/24 there should be no increase ( 0 % ) in the council tax for Worthing Borough. Unsurprisingly, the Labour councillors, despite having just voted to increase their own allowances and line their pockets, voted this amendment down and increased people's council tax."
Continuing he said; "This Labour administration seems to have declared an emergency for everything and of everything, but their actions don't match their words. Their words are hollow, they are self-serving only to their own needs and pockets."
Worthing Conservatives are committed to low council tax rates and have over the last decade either frozen or applied only small increases to council tax.
Cllr Jenkins said, "We are committed to doing more for our residents using low council tax rates. If re-elected back into administration in May then we are fully committed to delivering a 3% cut in everyone's council tax bill. There is now a stark choice for people in Worthing in May, vote Labour for high council tax and excessive increases in council service fees or vote Conservative for prudent, well managed sustainable finances, that minimises the burden on local residents."