Power to the people for only 75p a week
I am replying to the letter from Jonathan Dance (‘The high costs of community councils’, KE, September 17), and do so in my role as the chairman of the Ashford Area Committee of the Kent Association of Local Councils (KALC).
The KALC is a membership organisation for local councils (parish, town and community councils and parish meetings) in Kent and Medway and has been working closely with the five Ashford community forums/groups with their campaigns.
There are currently 316 local councils in the county, with two new councils being created in 2015.
Ashford already has a number of community forums and groups. They have been doing a good job but all realise they are severely constrained in what they can do because they do not have any powers.
Trying to expand their current role might be one possibility but does not address the fact that they have no powers. For instance, they have no right to be consulted about planning applications.
Local councils are statutory bodies and are the first tier of local government in England. They serve electorates ranging from small rural communities to towns and small cities; all are independently elected and raise a precept – a form of council tax – from the local community.
Local councils work towards improving community well-being and providing better services at a local level.
Yes, there is a cost to having a community council.
They are funded through a precept, which is a separate charge that is added to and collected along with people’s council tax.
Mr Dance rightly quotes that the national average levied by local councils is just over £50 per year or £1 per week. The average levied by local councils in Ashford is £39.55 per year or around 75p per week.
Ultimately, the actual precept for the community council will be decided when the council is being set up and will depend on what services and facilities are needed by the community. However, having worked with the five Ashford community forums/groups and having looked at similar-sized local councils elsewhere, I think the £25 a year that is being suggested as a possible cost is a reasonable estimate.
In my view, it is a small price to pay to have more power and control over your local area and to provide the services that your community wants, needs and deserves.
There is a national drive to create new local councils. Don’t be the ones to miss out. John Rivers, chairman, Ashford KALC Area Committee
All the local groups campaigning for community councils have stated their intention to keep their precepts modest, at about 50p per household per week, £25 per year for a Band D property.
If more funds are needed for bigger projects they can be raised by applying for grants from charities and funds that encourage particular activities such as installation of play equipment.
There is also the possibility that money from ABC and KCC could be given to community councils to carry out duties on their behalf, which already occurs with village caretaker schemes in the borough.
As in existing parish and town councils, some of the money raised by the precept would be used to employ a clerk and responsible financial officer.
They would ensure spending was carefully controlled, and could apply for grants (a time-consuming process) in addition to taking on all the other administrative duties necessary to ensure smooth running of the council. This would free up the elected councillors to focus on planning and overseeing the activities of the council.
Ashford’s forums are campaigning for the creation of community councils because we believe in localised decision making. If community councils are created our first action will be to consult local people to determine their priorities.
The villages have had parish councils that have been working to meet their community needs since 1894. When Tenterden Borough and Ashford Urban District councils were merged to form Ashford Borough Council in 1974, Tenterden retained a town council but Ashford residents were given no representation below borough level.
Do residents of urban Ashford have fewer needs than those in Tenterden and the villages? Are we less able to elect people from within our communities to represent us?
No! This is our chance to finally redress the balance. Jo Jowers, Christine Green and Emily Neighbour Central Ashford Community Forum successful Queens Park Community Council in London, with the higher costs incurred by the location and a population density substantially greater than any of the proposed councils, has a precept of £ 44.40 – below the national average.
Whilst there are local councils that provide few services, there are also those like Tenterden Town Council, which attracts the highest precept for an Ashford local council at £ 88.31. Tenterden has six officers with an employment bill of £ 150,000, a mayor with a mayoral allowance and civic costs and a number of properties, including the Town Hall, on which maintenance costs are incurred.
The operating costs of the community councils will be a fraction of the sum incurred by Tenterden.
The only entirely urban parish in Ashford is Stanhope, which – like many parishes – maintains a parish hall. It levies a precept of £ 24.17. From this it can be seen that £26 is a realistic estimate of the precept for the Ashford community councils. Bob Shrubb, Chair, South Ashford Community Forum
Letter writers say community councils could cost households just 50p a week