Thursday, 11 September 2014

Council Tax

Its budget planning time up at Cornwall Council and once again cuts to services and facilities is the order of the day and once again there are calls for town and parish councils to take over some of these services and facilities, with some reports that Town and Parish councils could take over the running of up to £34m worth of services but is this a realistic possibility?

There are 212 Town and Parish Councils in Cornwall and there is a lot of variation between them.

All Town and Parish councils get the vast amount of their funding the same way, the precept. When you get your council tax bill from Cornwall Council it’s made up of 3 elements, the largest is the money that goes to Cornwall Council, the next is the amount that goes to the Police, these are the same for every property in the same housing band across the county, the 3rd element and by far the smallest amount is the Town and Parish council Precept, this is the money that your Town or Parish Council has set in its budget to collect from every property in the parish so this amount varies depending on where you live.

That variation can be quite large with two councils in Cornwall collecting over £200, fifteen over £100, five collecting nothing and various amounts in-between, my own council Penzance Town Council collects £85.32 for a band D property, this is on the low side for the larger councils. 

The fact that this tax is raised on the number of properties in the parish and not people does bring up some interesting numbers: Newquay  population 19,900 has 6825 band D equivalent properties: Penzance population 21,200 has 6417 properties: Truro population 23,000 has 6139 properties. So Newquay with a population over 3,000 less than Truro raises its precept on nearly 700 more properties.

The total sum raised by this precept for 2014/15 by the 212 Town and Parish Councils in Cornwall is £13,598,097.90, in contrast Cornwall Council will raise £223.214m in council tax and a further £922.977m  in other tax and income.

So is it realistic for Town & Parish councils to take on and run up to £34m of services and facilities when their current total income is less than £14m? 

To do this would require a big hike in Town and Parish Council incomes but and it’s a huge but, not for all. The burden would fall mostly on the few large towns, there are 11 towns in Cornwall with populations over 10,000 (if you include Camborne/Pool/Redruth as CC does as one) and of these only 5 are over 20,000. It’s to this small group of towns and their residents that the largest burden will fall. 

There are 33 libraries in Cornwall pressure is already mounting on these towns to take them on.

For example: My own council, Penzance Town Council currently has a full time office staff of 4 and from our precept of £85.32 we raise just over £547,489, we also have income from 1 car park we own. From this income we run a Art Gallery & Museum, public park and playgrounds, skateboard park, town centre CCTV, 9 allotment fields, chapel of remembrance, Golowan Festival also support for other festivals and events, Christmas Lights, open air theatre. care and maintenance of a cemetery, care and maintenance of over 20 kilometres of public footpaths, we give financial support to other groups in the town, the list goes on.
In addition to this, we have in the past few years been asked to take on the public toilets in the town, replace the pavement/roadside weed spraying. The Jubilee Pool could also fall under the control of the town council in the near future. From this it can be seen that there is already a strain on the council's income, adding more to the list, much as the council may wish to take on these responsibilities it can only lead to one outcome, more council tax paid by the residents of the town.

In comparison the parish of Madron is just 2 miles from the centre of Penzance, the residents of this parish pay a precept of £40.09 raising just £19.600 from the 489 properties in the parish, little or any of this extra tax burden will fall on them. They will still benefit from access to the facilities that Penzance has to offer, but without the added tax burden, in fact Madron village is closer to the town centre than I am, this will be repeated across Cornwall big tax rises for those in the larger towns to pay for local facilities and services rather than the cost being spread across the whole and an ever widening gap in the tax costs of living in a larger town.

TOP TIP: - To cut your council tax bill move to a parish with St Michael in its name, St Michael Caerhays pays £0 parish precept, the same for St Michael’s Mount with St Michael Penkivel paying just £18.95 having gone down from last year.

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