Bath Chronicle

Pay ex­tra on your tax to help causes

- Stephen Sum­ner Lo­cal democ­racy re­porter stephen.sum­ner@reach­plc.com Society · Bath and North East Somerset · Bath and North East Somerset · City of Westminster · Westminster City Council · Westminster · Bath

Bath res­i­dents will soon be in­vited to top up their coun­cil tax with a vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tion to fund lo­cal ameni­ties and ser­vices at risk of cuts.

Bath and North East Som­er­set Coun­cil is bor­row­ing an idea from West­min­ster City Coun­cil, which has net­ted £1 mil­lion since 2018 to fund lo­cal projects.

But fears have been raised it could deepen di­vi­sions and “can­ni­balise” the in­come of es­tab­lished causes.

The com­mu­nity con­tri­bu­tion fund will be run by the author­ity as a oneyear trial and then could be­come a sep­a­rate char­ity.

Cllr Alas­tair Sin­gle­ton told a scru­tiny panel meet­ing on Septem­ber 28: “The pur­pose should be to in­crease the coun­cil’s abil­ity to de­liver on its pri­or­i­ties. It’s a way to in­crease in­come at a time when in­come is un­der pres­sure to sup­port ser­vices that might oth­er­wise be cut.

“I have a real con­cern that if it were to be a sep­a­rate char­ity it would com­pete with a num­ber of sim­i­lar benev­o­lent funds like St John’s, Ge­n­e­sis or DHI. The mar­ket for those might be can­ni­balised if the coun­cil moved in on that space.”

The West­min­ster model lets res­i­dents and vis­i­tors pay into a vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tion fund. It has gen­er­ated £1 mil­lion since it launched, with the money be­ing spent sup­port­ing rough sleep­ers, youth ser­vices and lonely peo­ple.

B&NES Coun­cil voted to fol­low its lead in July af­ter calls from res­i­dents who said they wanted to pay more, and a mo­tion from the Labour group.

The fund will be open to res­i­dents, busi­nesses and vis­i­tors. How they would pay in is yet to be de­cided.

Cllr Andy Furse said: “Parks, li­braries, youth ser­vices are three things that will, as we’re cash-strapped, get cut and cut and cut. They will for­ever be on the low pri­or­ity list.

“Those three things bring a lot of plea­sure and joy to many res­i­dents across the whole district.

“If you get into so­cial care and chil­dren’s ser­vices that are hugely funded, that small amount could get swal­lowed up. It needs to be non­statu­tory ser­vices where you can see the ben­e­fit.” He said res­i­dents in his ward, Kingsmead, may want to see their money tar­geted to­wards Royal Vic­to­ria Park.

But Cllr Mark El­liott warned that it would be “dan­ger­ous and di­vi­sive” if money from wealthy res­i­dents was only spent in their wards. He also voiced con­cerns about a char­ity pay­ing for ser­vices that should be funded through tax­a­tion. Cllr Hal Mac­fie, inset, agreed, say­ing: “Hav­ing an in­de­pen­dent char­ity is a good way to go.

“I wouldn’t want it to be pro­vid­ing ser­vices the coun­cil has cut. We should iden­tify things that are worth do­ing and will make peo­ple feel good. They should be generic rather than ward-based.”

Cllr Lucy Hodge said the sys­tem should be kept sim­ple, with boxes to tick on coun­cil tax forms, and could be like Wait­rose’s Com­mu­nity Mat­ters scheme, which gives shop­pers a say on how their money is spent by vot­ing with a to­ken.

She added: “Peo­ple will want to know what they’re tick­ing the box for, not think ‘I’m putting it into a slush fund for some­thing ob­scure I don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with.’

The com­mu­nity con­tri­bu­tion fund year’s trial will run from April.

The party group lead­ers will short­list the pri­or­i­ties that should be sup­ported.

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