Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Finance and Policy meeting 5th Jan 2009

Its a Monday night, the 5th of Jan in fact, therefore its a Council meeting. Tonight its a Finance and Policy meeting, (F&P), we looked at setting the Precept based on our budget planning sessions over the the last couple of months.

We have been faced with a complex position. The Council Auditors stated we had no reserves when I first joined the the council. So just as a director of a company in trouble we took action last year to ensure we could meet the Auditor requirement and allow us to plan to developments in the town that we can afford and improve the quality of life in the town.

I am very thankful we took the action we did last year in building a reasonable reserve. As this has a created the Town Council a breathing space in the current economic climate. Unfortunately the Vice Chair of F&P couldn't make the meeting tonight but his statement read as part of the Chairman's Announcements explains things rather well. I'm sure he would be happy for me to give his words a wider airing....

"Last year we took the bold decision to rebuild our depleted reserves, which I believe was a sensible and unavoidable policy. One intention was that, once we had rebuilt the required reserves, we could begin to reinvest in the community in a responsible way.

Next year's provisional budgets have been successfully kept below inflation (our biggest increase being the national pay awards which we have no control over), and, hopefully, one of the outcomes of the staff appraisals will be that we conduct a series best value analyses to seek ongoing improvements in our economies.

But we should not be insensitive to the current difficult economic conditions. Although recent inflation has been quite high, we may now be entering a period of negative real interest rates, and that will have an appreciable impact on most citizens of Marlborough.

I believe that given our previous prudent action, we can justify slightly slowing down the rebuilding of our reserves and give immediate aid to the pocket of our tax-payers, by either freezing our precept or reducing it by, say, 2.5%, which is my preference. This would have the effect, I believe, of taking 3 months longer to restore a normal level of reserves.

Although the impact of such a change to the precept is relatively insignificant to the overall council tax bill, I believe that, in making this reduction, we can set the tone for how a sensitive and responsible council can respond to current economic decisions, and hope that District and County councillors will be able to achieve similar results when setting the main components of our council tax bill."

People are caught up in headlines. When they read MARLBOROUGH COUNCIL TAX TO RISE BY X%, they instantly jump to the idea we are talking about the WHOLE COUNCIL TAX costs to you. In reality the Marlborough Precept is around 5% of the total "COUNCIL TAX". So when we have Councillors who are also District and county Councillors, writing to the papers about how they are fighting to cut costs. They question should be asked of them what are they doing to help keep the rest of the Council Tax as low as possible? Ask your county councillor what have they actually achieved on that front?

The town council funding got into the dangerous state, at the end of the last council due to balance sheets being sound, (on the face of it), when in reality the Councillors didn't have a clue as to the real meaning of what they were being asked to approve. That is very clear from the deficits run up, as that includes the councillors who claim to be fighting to cut costs. How is it they have just woken up to the idea of economic management? We are now fortunate to have a Chair of Finance Cllr Andy Ross, an accountant who can really spell out what is practical and what is not and the true meaning of the balance sheet of "Town of Marlborough".

Tonight we voted for the the Marlborough Precept not to change at all this coming year. That is a 0% increase on 5% of your council tax bill, if its a approved by full town council next week. The worry is what will the percentage increase be on the other 95% of your council tax bill be?

Any way, please tell me what you think. Your comments will help shape the debate in general...

Yours sincerely

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