The government have said they are considering setting a cap on the level of increases parish councils can add to their precepts. A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said: “Town and parish councils should protect their taxpayers from excessive council tax increases; if they fail to do so, government has the option of making them subject to the referendum principles in future.”
Tory-run Swindon Council is looking to create new parishes to operate “Streetsmart” services such as grounds maintenance, street cleaning, road and footpath maintenance and community bin emptying. They also want to transfer these services to existing parishes in Swindon.
The Council intends to do this in order to dramatically increase people’s Council Tax through introducing and increasing Parish Precepts. They want to introduce the parish precept in order to properly fund “Streetsmart” services, which are in dramatic decline. The Conservatives’ Council Tax plans and introducing a new parish precept will mean the overall Council Tax bill for people in non-parished areas will increase by up to £120. Parish Councils do not benefit from the same economies of scale and combined purchasing power as the Borough Council. The Council estimates that the same services will cost £10 per year more to be run by the parish councils rather than the Borough Council.
On the 11th February Stratton Parish Council held a public referendum on whether it should accept the delivery of Streetsmart services being transferred from Swindon Council to the Parish Council. 87% of residents voted no to this proposition.
The Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Jim Grant, said:
“The government’s announcement together with the result of the Stratton Parish Referendum, could sound the death-knell to the Council’s parishing plans. What the Conservative administration wants to do is transfer streetsmart services to new and existing parishes in order for parishes to increase their parish precept over and above what Swindon Council is legally able to without going to a referendum.
However residents can clearly see the injustice of Council looking to make residents pay twice to get the same services. That is why the government is looking at capping the levels of parish precept increases, which would in effect render it pointless for this Conservative administration to transfer streetsmart services down to parishes. And that is why a referendum on this issue by Swindon Council in the non-parish areas and a referendum by parish councils in their areas are so crucial. Anything other than this shows a blatant abuse of democracy and a mistrust of the views of local residents.”