Councillors divided as town council precept payment to rise by 35%

February 06 2020
Councillors divided as town council precept payment to rise by 35%

Filton could have the largest council tax precept in the country after residents were landed with a massive 35 per cent hike in Filton Town Council’s share of the council tax, a rise of more than £80 per year to £315.

Councillor views here

 

Filton could have the largest council tax precept in the country after residents were landed with a massive 35 per cent hike in Filton Town Council’s share of the council tax, a rise of more than £80 per year to £315.
Based on figures from last year from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Filton would be the highest charging out of more than 8,000 'normal' parishes.
There are two London areas which house court buildings, referred to as 'Temples', which are higher but these are not parishes in the normal sense.
The highest normal precept last year was South Kirkby and Moorthorpe in Wakefield, at £306. Filton, with a precept of £232 last year, was 17th of all the parishes.
The biggest element of Filton's precept will go towards propping up the leisure centre and pool. Councillors are currently engaging with a consultant to investigate ways of keeping the leisure centre sustainable.
Added to the amounts charged by South Gloucestershire Council, which makes up the bulk of the council tax, and the police and fire services, final bills landing on Filton householders’ doormats for 2020/21 will exceed £2,000.
A stormy meeting of the Filton Town Council finance committee saw councillors vote for the rise by 7-5.
In a named vote, Labour councillors Adam Monk, Mubashar Chaudhry, Darryl Collins, Tom Mewies, Ailsa Johnstone, Alex Doyle and Brian Mead voted for the rise.
Conservatives Chris Wood, John Tucker and Anne Kenyon, along with Independent Andy Robinson and UKIP's Keith Briffett, all opposed the rise.
Cllr Ian Scott was not present.
Cllrs Johnstone and Doyle said that while they voted for the increase now, they wanted to be sure that the leisure centre was sustainable in the future.
In a joint statement they said: "(We are) only voting for the proposal to allow time for the consultant to report on options for the leisure centre and, if none of those options are viable, for the centre to be wound down in a cost effective way in which the public are kept fully informed."
Accountant Derek Kemp told the meeting that since his last analysis, things had got worse with budgeted income now falling short by £102,000 and expenditure exceeding income by  £37,000.
He said that in order to have a balanced budget next year, and have cash reserves of around £70,000 (well below the recommended level), an extra £206,000 would need to be raised in precept.
He said: "I can't see any alternative. The cost of running the leisure centre next year will be £610,000."
This includes leisure centre salaries.
He confirmed the other main cost was council administration, at £266,000 and added that if the precept was not passed, there would not be enough money to run the pool and the council would also be facing redundancy costs.
"History shows we have been falling short of budget expectations. The age of the leisure centre is part of the problem as it is old and dated and has had no significant investment in a number of years."
Cllr Wood said the council had been too slow to act and should have called in the consultant nine months ago.
Cllr Wood, who represents Filton on both South Glos and the town council, said: “This is an extremely disappointing decision and one that I strongly oppose.
“The town council’s callous attitude towards offering any form of value for money to residents borders on sheer negligence. It was bad enough when we thought the precept would be increasing by 26 per cent, but for them to increase it to this level, making us one of the highest precepts in the country, exposes the shocking level of inefficiency residents are being lumbered with.
“While no doubt this decision will not be welcomed in the court of public opinion, I want to see a formal investigation launched to get to the bottom of this.”
Cllr Wood said that despite such a vast tax hike, services would see a minimal increase in financial support, with an overwhelming majority of funds going towards keeping the aging leisure centre afloat.
He said less than 0.5 per cent of its budget currently goes on its parks and public open spaces, with less than four per cent on community services.
But Labour Cllr Adam Monk, who is also a South Gloucestershire and Filton town councillor, said: “Nobody thinks the precept increase is acceptable but the leisure centre is a much-loved community asset.
“It is not the case that people want to close it down.
“Residents are annoyed about the precept increase and so are councillors.
“It’s really important to recognise there is an options appraisal under way that is looking at what can be done differently in the way the facility is managed.
“That could be putting it into a co-operative, handing it over to a charity or just closing it down, which I would not support.
“But it cannot carry on the way it’s currently working and no one is remotely proposing that.”
Cllr Monk said South Gloucestershire Council cuts were also responsible for the high charges.
“It is not as simplistic as just the pool.
"You have to look at the entirety of what makes up the precept,” he said.
“In South Gloucestershire the Conservative administration has cut services that Filton Town Council now has to pick up.
“The town council now pays over £3,000 for grass-cutting, and it pays for services like North Bristol Advice Centre and summer playschemes.
“It pays £3,500 for community enhancement which South Gloucesterhire ran and £3,000 for Christmas lights.
“So as much as the leisure centre is the biggest thing, there are other services that used to be provided by South Gloucestershire but are now the burden of Filton Town Council, including £17,500 for youth centres.
“We do not have a knife crime problem in Filton but the biggest single problem in that regard in London is the lack of youth centres, which means children have nowhere to go and hang out on the streets, which creates a gang problem.
“South Gloucestershire Council is not providing any youth centres in Filton but, like all these services, they are still needed, so the town council has to pick that up in the precept.”
At present, the town council’s charge for band D residents is £233.69, which means it will go up by £81.59 from April.
Filton leisure centre is the only one in the district to be run by a town or parish council.