Today I chased up the Rugby Borough Council twitter feed guy (as I write some of my tweets are to the right, but I suspect they won’t be there for long), and got a series of replies:
@danivonuk OK, first off – I answered a direct question without having all of the information in front of me. I apologise: I was wrong ^MD— Rugby BoroughCouncil (@rugbybc) March 18, 2013
@danivonuk The news release is accurate, and follows the same format of previous years, where town rate went down but overall freeze. ^MD — Rugby BoroughCouncil (@rugbybc) March 18, 2013
@danivonuk The change in Town Rate was included in all three budget proposals, and that is why I didn’t look for it or spot it. ^MD — Rugby BoroughCouncil (@rugbybc) March 18, 2013
@danivonuk The town rate covers specific expenditure relating to parks, cemeteries and allotments. All in town area. ^MD — Rugby BoroughCouncil (@rugbybc) March 18, 2013
@danivonuk The town rate is now only marginally more than four years ago, when CT first frozen, despite this year’s change. ^MD — Rugby BoroughCouncil (@rugbybc) March 18, 2013
@danivonuk I hope that is helpful, and apologies once again for my initial answer. ^MD — Rugby BoroughCouncil (@rugbybc) March 18, 2013
Now, there are two things here. The tweeter for RBC is apologising for answering my question (see previous post) incorrectly. I asked specifically if the Town precept would go up, they said it wouldn’t, but it has. That looks like being a simple error, and I accept the apology and understand how it happened.
However, I still believe that the RBC press release, which I also quoted before, was incorrect in that it put the average increase down to Parish Council precepts. Clearly the increase is down to the Town Area charge.
That it appeared in all three budgets is interesting. To explain, this means it featured in the Budget that was passed, based on the Conservative administration’s proposals, and also on the amended budgets put forward by the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat groups. I suspect that it because what usually happens is that a draft budget is worked up by the council officers along with the Cabinet, and this is what leads to the Conservative group proposal. The opposition can move amendments to it, or create a whole budget from scratch. They usually do the former, picking up particular items to add or remove (or change/delay).
What this tells me is that it’s not necessarily a political decision how to set the Town Area Precept, but that it’s more likely to be part of the more detailed work done by the officers. Obviously it is still passed by the full council as part of the budget, but it seems to be regarded as not being a headline and more of a low level detail.
What concerns me is that this means there is less oversight and accountability about how it is set than there is for a Parish precept. Maybe in previous years it went the other way – the RBC base amount going up, the Town Area precept going down – but that still doesn’t make it right.
I checked last year’s bill. The RBC portion remained the same, and the Town Area precept went down by 0.4% (28p for a Band D). I didn’t notice that because it was so small, and there was a larger increase due to the Police Authority at the same time.
The point is, that the precept for ‘exclusive’ services in the town is determined by Rugby Borough Council, and forms a significant part of the Council Tax that is earmarked for RBC. I will see what I can find out concerning the history of the precept (and the base amount), and how it compares to a ‘four year freeze’
Addendum 19 March – the original text had the reduction for the previous year as ‘about 2p’, which was meant to be ‘about 25p’. The exact figure has now been put in – 28p for a Band D)
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