Bradley Stoke Town Council could still increase its precept (share of the Council Tax) for 2013/14 after six Councillors called an emergency meeting to reconsider a decision, made only two weeks ago, to freeze it.
A Council press release put out on 17th January boasted of the precept being frozen “for a historic fourth year in a row” following a decision made at a Full Council meeting the night before but it seems that some Councillors have now had second thoughts.
Under its standing orders (constitution), the Council is not normally permitted to reverse a decision within six months of it being made, but the six Councillors have invoked a special clause that allows a review to take place if at least four Councillors support it.
The six that have called for a review are: Cllrs Brian Hopkinson, Sarah Pomfret, Ben Walker, Paul Hardwick, Elaine Hardwick and Keith Cranney.
The development is an embarrassing rebuff for former Mayor Cllr Robert Jones, who had argued strongly for a freeze at the Full Council meeting and was quoted in the press release as saying:
“Our residents are seeing their incomes eroded by inflation, increasing the precept now will only add to the squeeze.”
The special resolution to be debated at the emergency meeting on 6th February states:
“[We] wish to immediately revisit the decision made by BSTC on 16th January 2013 in relation to the Budget and Forward Plan, whereby we believe a zero increase in Precept would not deliver sufficient safeguard against the uncertain future of grant funding from South Gloucestershire Council.”
The decision to freeze the precept was taken despite the Town Council’s Financial Officer recommending that a 3% increase be introduced for 2013/14.
The Town Council’s finances have come under pressure because of a reduction in the theoretical number of properties used in the formula for calculating the precept. The change has come about as a consequence of the Government’s decision to hand responsibility for Council Tax Benefit to local authorities, while at the same time reducing support to 90% of the previous level. The loss of revenue to the Town Council will amount to £75,137 for 2013/14.
The Town Council’s loss will be partly offset by South Gloucestershire Council passing down a £47,158 share of its Local Council Tax Scheme Support Grant in 2013/14, although future levels of this payment are uncertain.
There are also indications that town and parish councils will increasingly be asked to fund services that are currently provided by South Gloucestershire Council, which is itself in the middle of a £34 million cost-cutting programme.
At the January Full Council meeting, one Councillor, Brian Hopkinson, agreed with the Finance Officer’s analysis and proposed a precept increase of 2.7% but his proposal failed to find a seconder. Cllr Jones’s proposal for a precept freeze was then passed by six votes to two, with three abstentions.
The ‘third draft’ budget agreed by Council incorporates several cuts introduced since the previous draft, including £8,400 off the annual youth provision budget and £4,000 off the reserves allocated for the Bradley Stoke ‘Britain in Bloom’ initiative.
The Town Council precept forms only a small part (around 7%) of the overall Council Tax bill that will land on residents’ doorsteps in April. The bulk of the charges are levied by South Gloucestershire Council. Other components are levied by the local police and fire authorities.
The Government has offered ‘principal’ authorities an additional 1% grant if they freeze their component of the Council Tax for 2013/14 but an increasing number have indicated that they plan to make increases of just under 2%. Recently introduced legislation requires most principal authorities in England to conduct a local referendum before introducing increases above 2%. The cap does not currently apply to town or parish councils but there has been talk of it being extended to cover these in future years.
South Gloucestershire Council is expected to agree the level of its 2013/14 Council Tax at a meeting on 20th February.
Photo: Bradley Stoke Town Council in action (May 2011).
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