Power to the peo­ple for only 75p a week

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Points Of View -

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

Pic­ture: is­tock

Let­ter writ­ers say com­mu­nity coun­cils could cost house­holds just 50p a week

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