Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Show Me The Money!

Don’t Call Me Dave is now a resident of Chigwell, served by Essex County Council, Epping Forest District Council and Chigwell Parish Council. Time will tell whether it is a case of being over-governed.

According to the council tax demand he received, the County Council, District Council and Fire Authority have maintained their charge at the same level as last year. The Police & Crime Commissioner has increased his charge by 3.5%, whilst the Parish Council has increased its charge by an inflation thumping 27.7%.

Needless to say, DCMD considers this increase worthy of investigation. However, any resident following the 'Financial matters and accounts' link on the Parish Council’s website will be met with a blank page containing no information whatsoever. Undeterred, DCMD hunted through the District Council’s website and found the following table:

The Parish Council has increased the amount spent on recreation by a modest £2,000. Environmental health expenditure has increased  by £8,000 but the largest increase, in monetary terms, is a rise of £52,000 on ‘other  services’. This is completely meaningless information – as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot. The council’s highest category of expenditure has all been lumped together in a way which makes it impossible for residents to know how their money is being spent.

It may well be that the increase of £52,000 is reasonable and desirable, but without an itemised breakdown of expenditure, how can residents reach an informed opinion as to whether this represents value for money?

Chigwell is part of the Epping Forest parliamentary constituency. The neighbouring seat of Brentwood & Ongar is held by the Rt. Hon. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Known as ‘Uncle Eric’ to his supporters, Mr Pickles has made it clear that he strongly believes in open and transparent government and, in particular, scrutiny of all public expenditure. He takes a very dim view of local authorities which do not open up their books to taxpayers, as does DCMD.