Wivenhoe Town Council precept for 2013

24

Comments

  • Am still wondering about the absence of the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 Annual Reports from the list.....??
  • The Town Council apparently has a new website being launched soon. The Town Clerk bought the basics for it at a conference last October.
  • http://www.wivenhoe.gov.uk/WTC/report_for2011.12.htm

    The Year End Report for 2011-2012 is available on the Wivenhoe Encyclopedia, but hasn't been put on the newer site yet.


  • edited January 2013
    There is a lot in today's Gazette relating to this subject.

    Front page headline is: COUNCIL TAX SET TO GO UP. Council tax is set to rise in Colchester for the first time in three years. The Lib Dem, Labour and Highwoods Independent Group want to snub the Government's offer of a £100,000 grant for freezing the bill.

    The Gazette gives a list of spending priorities that Colchester Borough Council has plans to spend money on in 2013/14.
    It covers many project areas but one of the allocations is for £2000 to be given to each borough councillor to spend on a project of their choice. The Gazette reports that the £120,000 cost for this will be partly offset by major cuts to the grants given to parish and town councils.
  • edited January 2013
    A bit of background information from the National Association of Local Councils on how we've arrived at where we have on setting the 2013-14 precept
    http://www.nalc.gov.uk/Latest_News/Media_Release_7_December_2012.aspx

    Eric Pickles, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told a
    conference of the National Association of Local Councils in November last year:

    “Local (parish and town) councils are localism’s magic wand and local
    services are at their best when they are run by local people. Localism requires local accountability and this is where local
    councils can provide this democratic mandate. We are giving you the
    power, now we are looking for you to deliver.”

    Fine sounding words maybe, but read on for a take on what the real situation is...

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/local-government-network/2012/dec/20/eric-pickles-localism-scrooge-christmas

    On the one hand government has granted parishes power, but on the other
    they have hobbled parish councils. The Department for Communities and Local Government has reduced the local tax base by taking income from council tax
    benefits away from parishes, requiring them to go cap-in-hand to their
    district or unitary council for a share of the government's council tax
    support grant. There is the very real possibility that a district
    council will say, "sorry, we need all we can get to deliver our own
    statutory responsibilities".

    This seems to be exactly the situation that Wivenhoe Town Council finds itself in.

  • The Society of Local Council Clerks, have produced what they say is "a clear easy-to-read guide to the new
    local arrangements to replace Council Tax Benefit in England and the potential
    funding implications this will have on every English town and parish council. "

    Unfortunately you have to be a member of the Society in order to access the document. I would presume that Wivenhoe Town Council has paid a membership to this organisation? If the document is available to the public through the town council offices that would be handy.
  • edited January 2013
    Poopdecker speculated earlier in this thread about whether Wivenhoe wouldn't be better off in Tendring District Council rather than Colchester Borough Council.
    http://www.wivenhoeforum.co.uk/discussion/comment/12832#Comment_12832

    I'm not so sure we would.

    Tendring District Council argue that they have been and are being hit by central government cuts more than any other district in Essex (apart from Harlow). Here is an extract from a letter sent by Tendring District Council to Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government. It was written in Dec 2010.

    Dear Minister,
    We write with reference to the Local Govemment Settlement and your statement
    that no council should suffer more than an 8.9% reduction each year over the next two
    years.
    The impact on Tendring District Council's grant from Govemment is, in fact, 13.8% in 10/11
    and 10.5% in 11/12 (a cumulative reduction of 23%). By using a new benchmark
    ("Spending Power') , this enabled you to publish a headline figure that may have been
    politically more palatable, but the reality will be far greater cuts than the public may have
    realised.
    However, that is not the main reason for writing to you. When we compare what our
    fellow councils in Essex have undergone (using your benchmark of "Spending Power"), we
    find that (apart from Harlow) Tendring has suffered the deepest cuts of all - in one
    example, over 50% more than a comparably sized, but more prosperous authority.
    According to your department's figures, that translates to around £1 million less money in
    2013 available to provide services to our residents in Tendring than Chelmsford will have to
    provide for theirs.
    Given our levels of poverty, deprivation and health inequalities, this is manifestly wrong
    and is even more galling when you realise that Tendring was recognised in mid-2009 as
    one of the highest rated councils in the country (and certainly the highest rated public
    sector organisation in Essex) in terms of value for money.


    And in another communication to the department dated Jan 2011:

    We are writing to make representation about the amount of grant funding allocated to
    Tendring District Council in 2011/12 and 2012/13 and the impact on the overall revenue
    spending power for this authority.

    The reduction in spending power for Tendring District Council is £1.630m in 2011/12 and
    £1.159m in 2012/13. This is the highest reduction in monetary terms and the second
    highest in percentage terms of all the district councils in Essex. Yet it is acknowledged that
    Tendring has particular needs with some of the most deprived wards in the country, low
    educational attainment and a fragile economy.
    Tendring District Council cannot begin to address these issues without adequate funding
    and it does seem perverse that other districts without the same problems or needs have
    not suffered the same level of reduction in their overall spending power.


    http://www.local.odpm.gov.uk/finance/1112/consultreps/Set23Tei-Wea.pdf

  • edited January 2013
    Contained in the CBC Cabinet papers for 23rd January:

    "2013/14 General Fund Revenue Budget, Capital Programme and Medium Term Financial Forecast

    6.6. The Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTS) was approved by Full Council in December. One of the issues with this scheme is that the Council receives a fixed grant from Government in respect of the cost of the agreed Council Tax discounts.

    The provisional grant allocations for LCTS included £120k which was estimated to be related to parish councils. Therefore to mitigate the impact that would otherwise be faced by parish councils it has been agreed that this grant will be paid to them. The LCTS grant forms part of the Council’s start up funding and therefore the cost of the parish grant needs to be shown as an increase in the budget requirement.  

    6.7. The level of the grant passed on to parishes is estimated to at least match the impact of LCTS in 2013/14. It should be noted that in future years financial settlements the grant in respect of LCTS is being included within our main funding levels and it is not expected that the assumed grant in respect of parishes will be separately identified. Given the notified further reductions in core funding for 2014/15 (shown later in this report) it will be necessary to review the level of any future parish grants in respect of LCTS."

    Which doesn't exactly fill you with optimism for moving forward.

    Although
    8.2 states:

    "From 2013 onwards, any council that wishes to raise its Council Tax above the limits that apply to them will have to hold a referendum. The result of the referendum will be binding."

    As for the cost of holding a referendum...?

    But:

    "Local precepting authorities (i.e. parish and town councils) are not included in the proposed principles. However, the Government has stated that it will monitor increases in this sector and has not ruled out setting principles that will apply to high spending town and parish councils."

    Dontcha just love Localism being rolled out by central government?
  • edited January 2013
    Thanks Jason. I won't pretend I understand all that ! - but maybe any local councillors looking in on the forum can help us out?

    This phrase in particular had me scratching my head - "The LCTS grant forms part of the Council’s start up funding..."

    I understand that from April 2013 Council Tax Benefit, the current means of helping people on low incomes meet their Council Tax obligations, will be replaced by new localised support schemes (LCTS - Local Council Tax Support). In other words local councils will be free to design almost any scheme they wish to provide help with Council Tax. But what does it mean by it becoming part of the Council's "start up funding" ?

    Basically what we are talking about is a cut in council tax benefit with the introduction of this new system. Help with Council Tax will become a local authority responsibility from April 2013, but the amount provided to local authorities for the new system will be approximately 10% less than current spending on Council Tax Benefit.

    How much all this impacts on the precept that WTC has to set this year, I'm not sure.

    The referendum question is interesting. As mentioned in previous posts it seems to only apply to the Borough Council and not the Town/Parish councils. However there is now this rather vaguely worded concept of central government "setting principles" if Town/Parish councils are thought to set their precepts too high. I'm not sure what that means.



  • I think we can be pretty sure of one thing: it doesn't mean that central government is going to make grants available at parish level.
  • Maybe this is what those pragraphs from CBC about
    the new Local Council Tax Support is about.

    I think CBC have put a portion of the Local Council Tax Support grant
    that they get from central government into the 'start
    up funding' column of this coming year's budget. They've estimated that the amount that should go in is £120,000, which is to be divided between all 31 town/parishes. It comes under "start up funding" because...er, it's the first year of the scheme?

    Anyway, in future
    years, rather ominously, they say the LCTS grant will be included in
    their "main funding levels" (i.e. not in their budget's 'start up'
    column). And because it won't be separately identified as being
    specifically for parish/town councils they seem to be warning that it could
    get partly swallowed up by overall budget demands.

    Would that be it?


  • I understood that the LCTS scheme simply replaces the Council Tax benefit from 2013, so helping eligible residents with their council tax payments has now become a local government responsibility.

    That makes sense of the 'start up funding' they're talking about because this will be the first year CBC will have responsibility for assisting this resident group.

    I cannot see how the £120k  would be equally divided between parishes as needs in each are different; numbers of residents in receipt of Council Tax benefit must vary from parish to parish.
    So that sum must be the estimated aggregate for all parishes.

    The sentence I don't understand is:
    "The level of the grant passed on to parishes is estimated to at least match the impact of LCTS in 2013/14"

    The impact of LCTS on what?
  • edited January 2013
    That is how I understand it all too Marika. But we should add the important point that the new Local Council Tax Support grant that CBC have to administer is going to have less money available to it than the previous Council Tax Benefit scheme.

    And yes, I would hope too that the divison of the £120,000 to parish/towns would be divided up on benefit need rather than equally between all 31 of them. This is in contrast to the rate support grant from CBC of just £500 which for 2013/14 is being given out equally to each Parish/Town Council, regardless of population size.

    As to the sentence you are struggling with.... they could do with a course in writing plain english!
    I can only think it means that what they are going to give to towns/parishes by way of a Local Council Tax Support grant in 2013/14 will be everything that they can, given the reduction in what they will be receiving for this benefit from central government.
    But they go onto warn that in future years "it is not expected that the assumed grant in respect of parishes will be separately identified." This strikes me as sounding pretty ominous...and that maybe in future years the amount of LCTS to any given parish or town council will be worked out in a much more uncertain way than it is at present.

    Any experts in local government finance on the forum that can help?
  • So they meant: this year they are giving  £500 + £x worth in LCTS, depending on the identified need in individual parishes.
    But next year it might be £500 + £x worth in LCTS and how the latter sum will have been arrived at will be anybody's guess.

    Don't answer that- the whole thing is souring me more and more :-(
    O wait... Pickles?
  • edited January 2013
    Relieved to see it is not just me that is struggling to follow all these changes...

    "Day after day the sheer idiocy of this policy and its inevitable
    implosion into chaos is being exposed to brutal scrutiny in the Lords
    grand committee. The hapless government minister deputed to respond was
    last week withdrawn from the committee, mangled by his utter inability
    to give answers that made any sense at all."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/23/poll-tax-back-cameron-localism

    Polly Toynbee ends her piece with this pithy paragraph:
    "Inefficient, bureaucratic, unjust and unworkable, the wonder is that
    local authorities are so docile when they should be raising the roof –
    Labour, Lib Dem and Tory councils alike. This is classic Cameron
    "localism", devolving the axe and the blame, dumping on councils the
    responsibilities that belong to central government with no power to
    raise extra money."

    What she failed to add though was that, through the loophole of uncapped parish/town precepts, some extra money could be raised. If that is what Wivenhoe Town Council is forced to do this year it needs to be clearly explained where that requirement has come from.
  • ... through the loophole of uncapped parish/town precepts, some extra money could be raised.
    That probably should be will be raised.

    What ho! devilishly clever wheeze don't you think?
  • edited January 2013
    This next bit could have had its own thread, but because managing funding cuts and the Localism Bill are all linked together in the coalition government's thinking I thought I'd keep it on here.

    Some may be unaware of the new powers that have been made available to Wivenhoe Town Council. In the jargon, the council has been given "a general power of
    competence"
    , which is said to be a radical new power with wide ranging possibilities that replaces the previous "power of well-being".

    I've attached a briefing paper that explains it all.

    Eric Pickles told a local government audience a few years back what he hoped it would achieve:
    ‘I totally support [the general power of competence]. I think you need it. And I’ll
    give it to you in the localism bill. Obviously, there have got to be limits. I’m
    not going to be the Secretary of State who let Passport to Pimlico happen
    on his watch. And I think it’s reasonable that councils shouldn’t use their
    new found freedom to saddle up the horses, arm their citizens and invade
    France. Apart from that, the world will be your oyster.’

    More prosaically, the idea is that a parish/town council could for example lend or invest money. It could also set up a company or co-operative society to trade and engage in commercial activity, and it could run a community shop or post office. The power is not restricted to use within the parish either, it can be used anywhere to raise income. The thinking seems to be that with control over such matters local councils would able to off-set
    the impact of the grant cuts that are happening.

    Others of course would argue that "Localism" is simply code for dismantling a national welfare state.

    Anyway, the requirements of the Council are these:
    "In order for a Council to have the general power of competence, 2/3 of
    the Council must have been elected rather than co-opted and the Clerk
    must be qualified and trained in the
    exercise of the power."

    In 2011, when the last WTC elections were to have been held, none actually took place. But I don't think that would affect whether the council can use these new powers as it
    was classed as an uncontested election, which happens when there are an equal number or fewer
    candidates than there are vacancies. In that situation all candidates are elected
    unopposed, and no poll is taken.There are currently 13 councillors,
    11 of whom were elected by default (i.e. without opposition), and two councillors were co-opted.
    doc
    doc
    A briefing paper for town and parish councils_The General Power of Competence.doc
    31K
  • edited January 2013
    Surprising myself that I'm pushing this Third Way twaddle, but the Co-operative Council Report just published has some interesting ways forward with regards co-production. I just wish that it wasn't being rolled out with such a political agenda.

    Anyway - tough times, etc.

    PDF attached.
    pdf
    pdf
    Co-op councils document final.pdf
    2M
  • edited January 2013
    Worth a read.
    Funding Community Enterprises: The Powers of Parish Councils.
    http://www.communityshops.coop/sites/default/files/9.3PublicWorksLoan.pdf

    It is from the Plunkett Foundation (http://www.plunkett.co.uk/aboutus/index.cfm )

    An extract:
    "...if a community shop, pub or village hall is threatened with closure, parish councils in England having
    the general power of competence can use their legal and financial powers to
    intervene to trigger the community right to bid to buy the facility and can keep it running, including
    through the provision of financial support - by loans, grants, or guarantees - buying the building or
    the business, or subscribing to shares. Parish councils can also help start new community shops
    or services by giving small grants or, where appropriate, in addition to those things already
    mentioned, borrowing to make an investment."

    And another extract of relevance to points that have been raised earlier in this thread:
    "There is no upper or lower limit on borrowing. The decision has to be made by the parish council
    with a view to its ability to make the repayments. Quite often a parish council will be able to absorb
    the cost but there is also the potential to increase the parish precept.
    When considering approaching the local parish council, however, you should be aware that it is
    likely to be looking to minimize precept increases. While parish councils are not currently included
    in council tax referendum principles, Ministers have made it clear that they are keeping this under
    review for future years.
    If council tax referendum principles were applied to parish councils, councils with precept
    increases which exceeded the principles would be required to hold a referendum to seek the
    approval of local electors; the result of the referendum would be binding. Councils would be
    responsible for meeting the costs of any referendum, and any precept increase which was
    attributable to borrowing would not be excluded from considerations for council tax referendum
    principles."
  • edited January 2013
    http://www.communityshops.coop/sites/default/files/9.3PublicWorksLoan.pdf
    In the above document from the Plunkett Foundation was this paragraph:

    "Only approximately 20% of parish councils at present fulfill the conditions for the
    'general power of competence' *. It can take 12 to 18 months, and the willingness of the clerk, to
    progress from a situation where none of the three conditions is being met, to being a council with
    the correct criteria for borrowing."

    This begs the question what stage is Wivenhoe Town Council at? If any councillors are reading this thread it would be good to know if the council do currently meet the criteria for taking on this new  'general power of competence', or whether it is being progressed.
    These are the criteria:
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2012/9780111519868

    *see earlier posting for an explanation of the term 'general power of competence' .
    http://www.wivenhoeforum.co.uk/discussion/comment/13077#Comment_13077
  • edited January 2013
    In theory, the coalition's Localism Bill, which has bestowed on parish councils the new 'general power of competence' (see above posting) will bring with it additional responsibilities and powers.
    It is therefore surprising to discover the following from the CPALC website. (Communities, Parish and Local Councils, is an independent body that promotes local democracy by supporting all, whether residents, town and parish councillors or parish clerks. )

    http://www.cpalc.org.uk/q-is-there-a-parish-council-watchdog

    Q: IS THERE A PARISH COUNCIL WATCHDOG?

    A:
    Strangely no. All tiers of government, of which parish councils are a
    part, have a process of referral to the Local Government Ombudsman
    except town and parish councils.

    Other than the town or parish
    council itself there is no external body to whom you can complain to
    about a town or parish council. This situation has lead to a rise in the
    number of expensive judicial reviews over the last few years.

    Under
    certain limited circumstances you may complain to the District Auditor
    or the External Auditor if you believe that there has been financial
    mismanagement. The Information Commissioner has powers to ensure that
    town and parish councils comply with the Freedom of information Act by
    holding them in contempt of court.

    CPALC (Communities, Parish and Local Councils) believes that the current situation is unjust.
  • edited January 2013
    There is also the Principal Authority Monitoring Officer.
    The job amongst other things is

    maintaining
    the register of members’ interests and in practice advising members
    on conduct and conflicts of interest. For Monitoring Officers of
    district and unitary councils, this responsibility extends to parish
    councils within their area.

    But the Local Government Act 2000 reduced the post's significance and it's not much of a watchdog anymore. He no longer has power to report on maladministration or breaches of statutory codes.

    edited to add: there's been more legislation since that time and the MO's powers have been added to again, but not significantly in respect of parishes.
  • edited January 2013
    Marika - as I understand it the Monitoring Officer can only offer advice to the Town/Parish Council on proper governance procedures, but the council is not obliged to follow it and the Monitoring Officer has no enforcement powers. So it does seem to be that parish councils are the only tier of government that are in this unique position, which as the CPALC says is strange.





  • That's the current position, yes. It's a toothless tiger at parish level.
  • The 2013-14 precept will be discussed and set at tonight's meeting of WTC.

    7:30pm Council Offices, 77, High Street
  • edited January 2013
    At the Wivenhoe Town Council meeting held on Monday 21st January 2013 the 2013/14 precept was mentioned briefly. However, lengthy discussions prior to this had taken place at the WTC Finance and Administration Committee where budgets for 2013 -14 were discussed and a precept was eventually voted upon and agreed unanimously.

    The headline figure to come out of that meeting was a .37p/week increase on the precept for this coming year, which represents a 32.34% increase on the previous year.
    To put that in context see this previous posting on the yearly increases over recent times:
    http://www.wivenhoeforum.co.uk/discussion/comment/12812#Comment_12812

    This precept increase is subject to final statements coming from Colchester Borough Council due on February 18th, but the expectation is that the WTC precept (our part of the Council Tax) will be set at a 32.34% increase for this coming year.

    The Mayor announced that a newsletter explaining about this precept increase will be sent out to all Wivenhoe households in the near future.

    The Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee, Cllr Neil Lodge, explained after the meeting ended that the committee doesn't meet in public, and so the full range of debate about the precept could not be heard. He explained that such a rule is contained  in WTC's Standing Orders*. Some surprise was expressed about this from members of the public at the meeting. However, Cllr Lodge did pass me the minutes of the Finance and Administration Committee held on the 9th January 2013, and he did give me permission to post them up here (click on attachments below).  The minutes fill in some of the details about the decisions that had to be made and how the final figure was achieved and thanks are due to Cllr Lodge for allowing the forum access to these.

    *The rule that was invoked to exclude the public from the deliberations was actually the Public Bodies Admission to Meetings Act 1960 - Section 1 (2) as minuted in the document attached.
    Here is a link to the relevant passage of the act.
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/8-9/67/section/1


    Minutes of WTC Finance and Admin Cttee_9th Jan 2013_P1.jpg
    1273 x 1754 - 865K
    Minutes of WTC Finance and Admin Cttee_9th Jan 2013_P2.jpg
    1273 x 1754 - 779K
  • edited January 2013
    For anyone interested in the Standing Orders of Wivenhoe Town Council (which I mentioned in the above posting), I attach a copy of them for reference.

    Many councils publish them on line, but at the present time they don't seem available on WTC's website. They are public documents, and it is considered good practice to make standing orders freely available to residents so they can understand their parish councils procedures.

    Here is a bit more about them:
    http://www.cpalc.org.uk/q-what-are-parish-council-standing-orders


    doc
    doc
    Standing Orders adopted May12.doc
    888K
  • WTC seem to be the whipping body here. Due to CBC and there reduction of the grant to Wivenhoe being reduced to £500 from £32k they had to organise an income locally to maintain current service levels.
    What options did they have?
    A difficult decision but one that had to be decided upon.
  • Do we get more services or better services than those living in central Colchester?  If so in what way?  If not why do we have to pay more in rates?  I hope the newsletter from the Mayor will explain this.
  • On exclusion from finance meetings, it would often be deemed necessary because personal salaries (e.g. of clerk and groundsmen) would be discussed.

    Though I guess in theory (and at a district level, not necessarily town/parish) the rest could be discussed in public with that part in private?

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