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‘It’s just a swindle’ - parishes claims cash is kept by council
4:00pm Thursday 31st January 2013 in News
PARISH councils are accusing Swindon Council chiefs of swindling them out a share of a £9.9m Government grant intended to plug a cut in council tax income caused by benefits reforms.
Council tax benefit will be replaced with council tax support in April and one effect is homes receiving the new benefit towards the charge will no longer be included in council tax calculations, reducing the amount of council tax income.
To offset this impact without the need for councils to increase council tax or cut further expenditure, the Government gave extra cash to authorities which send out the council tax bills, and encouraged them to share some with parish councils.
Swindon Council gets £9.9m, of which £167,000 would have to be handed out to mitigate the impact on parishes.
But the administration has decided to keep it to itself, meaning parish councils either have to reduce expenditure and/or increase their precept on council tax, which is paid by parishioners.
A report to be presented to cabinet on February 6, when leaders will formally endorse the decision, shows the average tax income reduction across the parished areas in 2013/14 is 6.2 per cent, compared to 13.8 per cent across non-parished areas.
The Wiltshire Association of Local Councils has recommended to parish councils to increase their precepts to completely offset the reduction and to also write a letter of complaint tocouncil leader, Rod Bluh,their ward councillors and the Government.
The parishes worst hit are those with higher proportions of households receiving council tax benefit.
Stratton Parish Council has decided to raise its precept by 2.51 percent to £105.52 per year, for a Band D property.
Parish Council leader John Foley (Lab) said: “As the saying goes, ‘We was robbed.’ “Despite the last four years of a reduction in our precepts, we’re terribly disappointed because of the intransigence of this parsimonious council.”
Parish chief financial officer Paul Russell said: “If we had had this money we could have reduced the rate by about two per cent. I think it would have gone under a hundred pounds this time.”
Stanton Fitzwarren Parish Council is hit by 6.6 per cent.
Chairman Tom Charnock said: “To make any change to our services would be detrimental to the parish so we have said on balance we will increase the precept 6.6 per cent.
“As a parish council it seems incongruous the council are given money to give to us, they choose to keep it and we then have to put up the charges to our residents. They’re swindling us of the money.
“But these level of increases wouldn’t be necessary if the council handed out the money they should have given out for parish councils.
“This is what Wiltshire County Council has done. Wiltshire County Council were given £1.15m and they’ve handed it out to parish councils.”
The borough council’s cabinet member for strategic planning and sustainability, Coun Dale Heenan (Con, Covingham and Dorcan, areas), said the Govern-ment had not specified where the money should go, and the borough had to find £2m savings because of the council tax changes.
He said: “We’re always happy to talk with parish councils.”