Parish councils in the borough may be facing the possibility of increasing the amount of money residents in the area need to pay for their services, following Swindon Borough Council’s decision to withhold central government grant monies to help in the transition to locally determined council tax schemes.
Explaining the situation chairman of Haydon Wick Parish Council Richard Hailstone said: “Swindon Borough Council is one of only two or three unitary authorities in the country which has chosen to withhold the money rather than disseminating it throughout its parishes.
“It amounts to £167,000, which is small in relation to the entire budget of the council, but withholding it means that parish councils will have to raise their precepts and pass the cost of services onto parishioners.”
The money is part of the £9.9 million grant the borough council receives from central government to support parish and town councils in 2013/2014.
Haydon Wick Parish Council assistant media officer* Steph Exell said: “The parish council has written to the the Minister for State Mr Eric Pickles, for an explanation as to why Swindon has made this decision. The minister’s office has clearly stated that this is not what it intended when it made grant provision for the forthcoming financial year.
“We are concerned that the withheld funds are being used by the borough council in its budget without any consultation on how the funds are to be spent. It is not within the parish council’s remit to fund Swindon’s spending plans.”
She added that the parish council has not increased its element of council tax for this year but this may not be possible in the future.
Commenting on the borough council’s response Cllr Hailstone said: “The council said there was no obligation to disseminate the money and that it wasn’t ear-marked as a separate amount. We are now hoping that the government will make it mandatory to pass on the grant to parish councils.”
Swindon Council leader Cllr David Renard said: “At a meeting of the full council in February when the council’s budget was debated, councillors considered whether they wished to pass funding from the borough to parishes to mitigate the impact of the changes, but decided not to, on the basis that the borough was struggling to balance its 2013-14 budget due to the severe reductions in government funding.
“Parish councils have more flexibility to increase their income via their precepts. While the borough council has to hold a referendum for a council tax increase above 2 per cent, and was being strongly encouraged by Central Government to freeze it altogether – something it voted to do. No such restrictions exist for parishes.”
*The parish council employs a clerk and an assistant. All other roles are voluntarily undertaken by the councillors voted in every five years by residents of Haydon Wick.