As the Conservative administration works towards its goal of achieving significant reductions in non-statutory areas of spending, we are entitled to ask why this is necessary, because contrary to perceived wisdom it is not due to the inability of the council to raise money by increasing Council Tax?
Such a canard is to distract from the fact that central government, under the guise of austerity, is reducing the amount of funding to local councils. Before anyone assumes this to be a problem associated only with a Conservative led administration, let me assure you it is not. Thirteen years of a Labour Government witnessed the same remorseless reducing of financial support to local authorities. Secondly, the council bound its own hands by making a commitment not to raise the rate of council tax.
The current Conservative administration continue their somnolent mantra of cuts are necessary if we are to balance the books whilst holding out the begging bowl to their ‘friends’ at Westminster, which surely merits the comment: ‘with friends like these, who needs enemies?’ After all the bowl remains steadfastly empty. Of course the Chancellor’s announcement of a change in how Business Rates are may prove beneficial but as is often the case this may yet prove to be a case of ‘give with one hand and take with the other’
Cllr David Renard, Leader of the Borough Council has been presented with a wizard wheeze on how to make savings of £5 milliobs to the council budget – and its simple in the extreme. Under the guise of localism or as the Conservatives prefer to call it – giving local communities greater powers to manage local issues – transfer all those nasty jobs such as street cleaning, graffiti removal, grass cutting and waste collection to Parish Councils. And while we are about it, if parish councils don’t exist for areas let’s create some.
At a stroke the problem is solved, no longer responsible for the mundane and uninteresting stuff, the 57 councillors can do what Cllr Renard has described as ‘invite or request support from partners.’ I feel many councillors will be bemused as to what the leader means. It has to be said a senior councillor has suggested to me that this is exactly what they do at the moment.
Of course £5 million is a considerable amount of money but is it really a saving, or is it just a smart way of manipulating figures on a balance sheet?
Consider this, the need to cut back on spending is predicated by the reduction in the Central Government grant, a fact no one disputes. To ameliorate the affect of the reduced grant there are two options, cut services or fight the Government and tell the faceless bean counters in Whitehall that a grant reduction is not an option.
Let’s face it, there really is no shortage of money in the pot if we can afford £43 billions for HS2 or considerable billions for new attack Drones for deployment in a far off land against an enemy we helped create.
Is it right to have a Foreign Aid budget with over £6 billion earmarked for development projects and not emergency aid while UK development projects stall due to a lack of funding? The Chancellor proudly proclaimed “You don’t measure compassion by the size of the welfare bill” – isn’t the same true for the Foreign Aid bill?
The decision to Parish the non-parished areas of the town is not being made or considered on the basis of political altruism but on the very obvious one of political expediency. Following the money trail suggests that in year one the Parish Councils will receive 100% of the cost of any activity they absorb from the borough, this figure reduces until year three when the Parish is on its own.
What is clear is that from year two onwards the Parish precept will have to rise if the transferred services are to be maintained. In one fell swoop responsibility for the rise in tax can be attributed to a new group of people – Parish Councillors.
As for the Borough Council, well, the assumption is they will handle the important stuff, what they often refer to as the old, the vulnerable adult and child protection, all of which consumes a major part of the spending budget.
A question to be asked is whether or not a considerably emasculated Borough Council will require 57 elected councillors. After all, how many politicians do you need to “invite or request support from partners.” Isn’t that something officers could do perfectly well themselves?
What do you think? Mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, Read Martin Wick’s call for a council tax payers referendum on whether the town should be parished
Councillor Des Moffat comments:
In creating new Parishes and extending the activity of existing Parishes there will be much more financial pain than is implied. While that is bad enough what makes it much worse is the pain will not be evenly spread. It will be regressive taxation and for a whole number of reasons.
In less well-off areas the population is denser and the rateable value is lower so the tax take in much lower covering more people.
In Haydon End, for example, all the infrastructure is newish while in Gorse Hill it is worn out and has been largely neglected for the last 10 years.
If the Parish has no industrial estates, no commercial centre nor a major linear park, it has a financial advantage.
It is absolutely right that in Parishes, service demand will be more immediate and more likely to be delivered. That comes at a price, it will not be possible to ignore the hedge growing over the footpath as Swindon Council gets away with now.
Then there is the new level of democratic management to be funded, Public Liability insurance to be found for activities like managing School Crossings. Does anyone think a new Parish will get as good a deal on that as Swindon Council does?
There has to be a loss in the economies of scale including equipment not fully utilised.
Having said that I am not necessarily against going this way provided the citizens of Swindon know what is involved and the opportunity for well off areas to pull up the ladder is avoided.
Recent experience was not good in that regard when we consider what happened in Nythe.