Last week, like all Council Tax payers, I received my Council Tax Notice for 2013-2014.
As you can see, the total Council Tax is the sum of four different elements.
I already knew that Surrey County Council would be increasing my bill by 1.99% because they need the money to spend on vanity projects and stays in posh hotels for councillors.
Likewise, I knew that Surrey’s new Police and Crime Commissioner would need more money because “zero tolerance” costs a lot more than “tolerance”.
And, of course, I knew that Surrey Heath Borough Council would be putting their bit of the Council Tax up too.
These three Council taxers are all limited by the percentage that they can increase our bills. If they increase bills by over 2% they need to hold (and fund) a referendum to get our agreement. Realistically, this isn’t going to be forthcoming so they are effectively capped at 2%.
The fourth element of my Council Tax bill is the smallest but has risen by the most, by a long way. This did surprise me.
I have been trying to find out about how Windlesham Parish Council spends its money and it hasn’t been easy. Consolidated budgets were impossible to find. I attended a Council meeting and saw that some spending decisions were on the agenda. However, when we reached them they decided to move them to part 2 of the meeting where the “press and public” are excluded. I was thrown out of the meeting for this discussion.
I have often found that the more interest I show in the workings of local government, particularly regarding taxpayers’ money, the more those in power try to cover it up.
In Windlesham Parish Council minutes, a meeting was scheduled to decide the Council Tax precept for the coming year. I phoned the then clerk to find out the venue because I was going to come and listen. I was refused entry. Councils are supposed to hold meetings in public but WPC don’t do this.
Now, why did Windlesham Parish Council increase my bill by so much, 5.7%?
As you can see from the table above the total amount that WPC will receive from all of us has gone up from £265K to £273K. This is only 2.95%. However, the ‘tax base’, the effective number of houses in the parish, has fallen from 8143 to 7934. This means that to get 2.95% more money, fewer taxpayers have to pay 5.7% more.
There has been a big fall in the ‘tax base’ this year because of the Localisation of Council Tax Benefit and the fact that it was cut by 10% when it was transferred to councils from central government. Regular readers will remember Surrey Heath Borough Council imposed the harshest benefit cuts in the country, when they were asked to decide on this. You can see the reduction here:
Since I can’t get into supposedly public meetings, I’ve been reading the published minutes of Windlesham Parish Council to see if I can work out what was in their minds. I read this in the minutes of 4 Jan 2013:
This helps a little, but it doesn’t reveal whether councillors knew that our bills would actually rise by 5.7% due to the reduction in tax base. Then I found this:
This is from minutes of 1 Feb and is actually quite serious. It shows that Windlesham Parish Council thought that SHBC would go to its magic money tree and make it all better. Ignore the unfortunate pound signs in the this minute (bizarre that nobody else spotted them, makes you wonder). It is worrying that they didn’t realise that the tax base had dropped and its effect on individual bills. Looking at the other parishes, it seems West End and Chobham both realised.
From what I can gather, Windlesham Parish Council did not intend to increase my bill by 5.7%, it was due to either incompetence or miscommunication with SHBC. I have an unrelated Freedom of Information request in with SHBC to see some communications with WPC. It is several months overdue. My suspicions are being raised that there is something to hide in the finances of Windlesham Parish Council and I call on them to be transparent with the taxpayers and tell us what they are doing with our money.