Monday, 21 October 2013

Bench-marking FTC and its council tax.

Comparing town and parish councils can be something of an interesting if not a thankless task - you see there are so many of them and they differ so much in size, character, ambition and approach event though their legal powers are effectively the same.

Records show that there are around 9,000 parish councils in England.  Some 600 of these are town councils - such as Frodsham.

The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that the Government was considering capping the ability of these town and parish councils to raise their element of the council tax - as last year, on average town and parish councils raised their precepts by c5%.

Now before everyone splutters in outrage we lowered our precept in Frodsham!

When considering your council tax bill you also have to take into account that in our part of CWaC is made up of 5 elements which are:

  • CWaC's precept;
  • Police & Crime Commissioner's precept - to pay towards the costs of Cheshire police;
  • Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service;
  • CWaC's special expenses - in other words those services CWaC provides locally in some areas, but not others - which some parish council's provide - eg the cost of a PCSO, Christmas lights etc; and
  • FTC's precept.
Leaving aside the special expenses FTC's element is by far the smallest and in Frodsham the special expenses figure is zero in any event.  You see typically more than 85% of your council tax goes to CWaC, around 10% to the Police and Crime Commissioner, and around 5% to the Fire Service.  If you want more detail you can find it here courtesy of CWaC.

A householder of a typical band D property in Frodsham will have to pay a total of £1,526.42 in council tax of which only £37.20 goes to FTC - less than 2.5% of the total precept.  

So what does this tell us about Frodsham.

Last year - unlike the 5% average increase reported for all parish and town councils - Frodsham Town Council's council tax take went down - albeit by a few pence.

The average Band D council tax levied by a parish council in England last year was £50.19.  Frodsham Town Council's precept is 25% cheaper than this average!  Frodsham residents pay less council tax than any other parished town in CWaC (ie it is the cheapest parished town in the Borough.  Cheaper than Northwich, Winsford & Neston.  Ellesmere Port and Chester are, at present un-parished).  

The council tax paid by Frodsham's residents is lower than other non-towned parishes too - such as Helsby, Tarporley, Saughall & District, Sproston, Marston, Little Stanney, Kingsmead, Darnhall, Moulton, Clotton Hoofield, Oakmere... and I dare say that none of these communities do all the things that FTC provides such as:
  • our own dedicated PCSO;
  • allotments;
  • cemetery;
  • bus stops;
  • volunteer winter gritting scheme;
  • over 70s vouchers
  • community defibrilators (with CWaC member contributions)
  • Christmas lights
  • community orchards etc
  • support with CWaC others in extending cycling and cycle stands in Frodsham
  • support with CWaC and others in Christmas and other festivals and events in Frodsham
  • support with CWaC and others in our own community social enterprise Frodsham Foundation; and
  • play areas...
This is not a complete list by the way!

I welcome the suggestion made in the Telegraph article that if a parish or town council wishes to raise its parish precept by more than 2% should only be supported by a local referendum.  The only problem is that the costs of running a referendum are quite prohibitive if you are looking for a relatively small rise which could engender local support.  

Perhaps we should ask the government to be more sophisticated in its approach - such as requiring a referendum if seeking an increase by 2% when you are above the national average - with perhaps a slightly higher threshold - such as 4 or 5% if you are below that average figure.  Alternatively some less expensive means of testing local opinion than a full blown referendum could be an alternative.  (I estimate for Frodsham that a referendum would cost us around £15-20,000k - perhaps more than 10% of our entire revenue in any year.  The costs of the referendum alone would prevent you ever seeking authority to increase the precept beyond the capping figure in all likelihood.

Incidentally I have no plans to raise FTC's precept - I am simply explaining the realities of what a 2% 'referendum cap' would mean.

What the Telegraph article also highlights for me is the fact that Government needs to review how much it pays to CWaC in grants.  The figures also suggest we are not getting as much as perhaps we should.  I signed a petition a month ago requesting that the government settlement figures for CWaC should be reconsidered.  As a Borough we are much more self sufficient than other areas.  If only the rest of the country was as efficient as CWaC and FTC we'd all be paying a lot less in Council Tax!