I feel that I must respond to the article in the Ross Gazette (December 9th) which is related to the decision taken at Cabinet on December 3rd, 2015 (Agenda item 10 – Local Council Tax Support effect on Council Precepts).
The reported conclusion reached by Cllr Chris Bartrum as a result of this decision is however totally incorrect.
The grant funding reduction does not impact on parish council precept setting. Precepts are to be set and paid in the usual way. The parish precept is a demand on Herefordshire Council and there is a legal obligation to meet that demand in full.
The government’s council tax benefit scheme was abolished from 1 April 2013 and replaced by the locally controlled (Herefordshire) council tax reduction scheme. This resulted in a reduction in the council tax base on which Band D council tax is calculated and collected.
The reduction in the tax base means a fall in council tax receipts. This reduction was largely, but not entirely, funded through the rates retention scheme where councils receive central government support. The funding received was initially 10% less than would have been received under the previous council tax benefit system.
For 2013/14 the government estimated £289k of the additional funding included in the rates retention scheme for 2013/14 related to parish councils. Whilst there was no legislative duty to pass on this funding, Herefordshire council passed this grant onto parishes in 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16. The actual grant funding received was rolled into the council’s annual financial settlement and whilst this overall funding was reduced by central government Herefordshire Council maintained the same level of funding to parish councils. The funding was allocated to individual parish councils based on the number of dwellings that were previously in receipt of council tax benefit.
The council annual financial settlement has reduced by 35% from 2013/14 to 2015/16 and is expected to be withdrawn entirely from 2019/20. It was therefore proposed and agreed at the Cabinet meeting of December 3rd that the current level of parish council grant funding be withdrawn in 2016/17 unless in doing so the annual tax payer charge would increase by more than 0.4%. Where the removal in a parish council would result in an annual taxpayer increase of more than 0.4% the removal will be phased. The increase in Ross on Wye is less than 0.4% and will not therefore be phased.
Budgets have not yet been approved and the 2016/17 council tax will not be set until March 2016 but the precept demand on Herefordshire Council will be met in full, there is no withholding of funds as a result of this decision.
Cllr Harry Bramer
Ross Town Council and Cabinet Member – Contracts and Assets