Friday, 3 January 2014

Money For Nothing

Don’t Call Me Dave has now established why Chigwell Parish Council increased the precept by 27% (£60,000) for the 2013/14 financial year. He is grateful to the parish Clerk, Kay Canning, for directing him to the council meeting of 9th January 2013.

Under agenda item 2b (Budget – Finance and Precept) it states that the council had received a petition from residents asking for a £10 per household increase in the budget to: “Provide funding to allow for the best interests of Chigwell and its residents to be met, in particular in relation to Epping Forest District Council's proposals to build houses on various sites around Chigwell as cited in the Local Plan: Issues and Options (2012).”

The council debated the matter and agreed to the request. DCMD wholeheartedly supports the right of residents or resident groups to petition the council over any issue of concern to them. In principle, he also supports any campaign to prevent over-development and building on the green belt. However, due to a lack of information on the council’s website, the circumstances surrounding this petition and the consequential tax increase leave many questions unanswered:

  • How many people signed the petition?
  • What percentage of the electorate does this represent?
  • If only a small percentage of the electorate signed the petition, what steps did the council take to establish the views of the majority?

DCMD is particularly concerned that the wording of the petition is somewhat vague. There is no indication as to how the council intends to spend the money. Is it to lobby the district council? In which case, why does the parish need to raise money at all? 6 of the 11 parish councillors also sit on the district council. You don’t need to spend public money to lobby yourself! How will the council measure the effectiveness of the expenditure?

There is a further question as to whether the council’s constitution allows it to spend money on what would effectively be a political campaign, without a mandate. Despite two written requests, DCMD has yet to receive a copy of the constitution.

Unsurprisingly, DCMD has been advised by a parish councillor that the council has yet not spent the money, which raises further questions:

  • Have the funds been deposited in a ring-fenced account?
  • If the money is not spent, will it be returned to taxpayers or put into the general fund?

Chigwell Parish Council has an absolute right - arguably a duty - to stand up for residents on planning matters, in particular those which may be imposed by a higher local authority such as the district council. But it also has an obligation to spend taxpayers’ money wisely and lawfully.