rory warns of threat to parish councils’ income
Rory has in his capacity as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Local Democracy warned that the Government’s plans for reforms to local government finance risk undermining the financial independence of parish councils.
Recently announced plans from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to devolve control and funding for council tax benefit to Local Authorities will lead to town and parish councils becoming financially dependent on larger principle authorities and losing their current financial independence which comes from their power to charge an additional precept on the council tax bills of those living in their area. The response to a recent consultation on the proposed changes made it clear that the vast majority of parish councils favoured a system which meant that funding for residents whose parish precept is funded by council tax benefit would have to be passed directly to them.
Despite this the Government have proposed a system where the grant funding provided to fund the precept of those claiming council tax benefit is provided to the local authority, but parish councils will have to negotiate with the district or unitary councils to ensure that they get their share of funding.
Rory said: “These measures, as they stand, are extremely worrying for town and parish councils. I have written immediately to the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to ask him to reconsider these ill-thought out plans, and to protect the council tax base; the impact on small councils could be very, very damaging indeed. The Government’s final position on the protection of parish and town councils’ precept income has come has a surprise to the sector, given previous reassurances that the Government would respond to concerns about the proposals. Without an unadjusted council tax base applied to the new council tax support schemes, local councils could see their tax based reduced significantly and this would force them to raise precepts or reduce services. I appreciate that the funding attributable to the parish precept will be provided to the billing authority through grant funding, but this will leave town and parish councils dependent on being able to negotiate an equitable deal with principle authorities (this, in itself, poses certain logistical obstacles which will be difficult for small town and parish councils to overcome). Obviously I will continue to lobby DCLG very hard, both as a local MP with a large number of small local councils operating in my constituency, and as Chairman of the APPG on Local Democracy on behalf of parish councils across England.”