Saturday, 9 February 2013

WALC County Committee AGM - 22 January

Last Monday, I attended the AGM of the county committee of the Warwickshire & West Midlands Association of Local Councils in Leamington Spa. I, along with three other colleagues, represent parish councils within the Rugby area on the county committee.

The first item of business was to appoint Eric Knibb from Castle Bromwich Parish Council to be chairman of the association, and for Vaughan Owen from Burton Green Parish Council to become vice-chairman, for the forthcoming year. Vaughan Owen had been the chairman during the previous year, and a vote of thanks was taken in recognition for the work he had done representing parish councils within Warwickshire on the local, regional and national stage.

I was appointed to sit on the Policy Advisory Sub-Committee for the next year, which meets occasionally to consider and make recommendations to the county committee on any changes to the policies of WALC.

Amongst other business considered during the meeting, the latest financial position of the association was reviewed, details of WALC's annual briefing day for parish councils on 2 March were agreed, and there were update reports from the Vice-Chairman on his attendance at the National Association of Local Councils meeting in December. The county committee also agree to request Ron Ball, Warwickshire's newly elected Police & Crime Commissioner to appoint a representative of the town and parish council sector onto the county's Police & Crime Panel, whose role it is to provide scrutiny and challenge to the Police & Crime Commissioner. As the tier of government closest to the people it represents, town and parish councils are very much aware of the safety and security concerns of the public, and could have an important contribution to make as a member of the panel.

There was also much discussion over the government's recent decision to localise Council Tax benefit support. One of the less obvious consequences of this was that parish councils would receive a reduction in the amount of money they were able to raise from their element of the Council Tax, and were then reliant on borough councils passing on grant funding from the government to make up the shortfall (which boroughs were under no compulsion to do). Fortunately, Rugby Borough Council stuck with its commitment to pass on 100% of the grant funding to each parish (which in the case of Shilton & Barnacle Parish Council equated to around 10% of its annual budget). There is concern that if this process is repeated again in future years (as is expected), borough councils will come under increasing pressure not to pass all of this grant funding on to its parishes, leaving parish councils having to decide whether to increase its share of the Council Tax or to cut back on services, for reasons none of which are of its making.

The association wrote to the government expressing the difficulties this has caused parish councils. A response received from Brandon Lewis MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was not particularly encouraging, choosing to say:

"It is the Government's clear expectation that billing authorities will work with parish and town councils to pass down funding so that their precepts can be reduced to reflect reductions in their council tax base. Precisely how much funding should be passed down will depend on a number of factors ....... which could change from year to year."
It seems that we should prepare ourselves for an annual round of financial uncertainty as we plan and prepare budgets for the years ahead!

The next meeting of the WALC county committee will be held on 24 April.

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