Nantwich Civic Hall - Feb 2021 (1) (1)

Dear Editor,

Letter sent to Nantwich Town Council.

I have examined the summary of the Capital and Revenue Budget for 2021/ 22 and would make the following general observations.

Since the Tax Year 2015/2016, the amount of precept paid by band e properties to Nantwich Town Council has increased from £109.68 to £213.63 that is a net increase of £103.95, which represents an increase in excess of 94 percent.

In the Tax Year 2010/2011, the precept on a band e home was £34.34. Over 11 years this exceeds a 6-fold increase. The increases have been in excess of any measure of inflation as measured by RPI, CPI or increase in Average Earnings.

During this period, the numbers of new houses built within the boundaries of Nantwich Town Council will have increased considerably providing an increased source of income to meet expenditure.

The accounts available in your communication simply provide a summary of both income and expenditure under broad headings and do not permit forensic scrutiny of expenditure. Specifically, they do not provide financial evidence of a Town Council that is acting prudently and delivering value for money for the residents of Nantwich.

Under current legislation, the Town Council has been able to avoid any form of referendum by residents to support these substantial percentage increases in the precept. Cheshire East Borough Council would have to obtain a mandate through a referendum before imposing such percentage increases.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, I am now formally requesting a full copy of your reports and accounts for current tax year as well as a copy for the previous tax year. This documentation should provide a full analysis of your income and expenditure and how the Town Council have chosen to spend council taxpayer’s money in a clear and forensic format.

No doubt it will be illuminating to see what actions and strategies the Town Council has employed to reduce costs. Dare I say an exercise regularly undertaken in the private sector. Salary and associated costs are normally the largest financial commitment to any employer, irrespective of whether you work in either the public or private sector. I understand, the Town Council plan to appoint a Town Ranger at a basic salary cost of £22,735 despite the financial pressures it is currently experiencing.

When you respond to this communication perhaps you could explain the cost benefit of this proposed appointment to the taxpayer of Nantwich.

I would also refer to Page 4 of the Report (Extracts from the Minutes (Finance |Committee 29th October 2020)

I refer specifically to Councillor Statham’s comments at the bottom of page 4. Quote. Councillor Statham expressed concern relating to cost control and believed not enough work had not been carried out to reduce costs. He could not support the budget proposal.

He believed that he had found an additional £100,000 of potential savings on expenditure. Please explain why his comments were ignored and why no further steps were taken to revise expenditure.

When the lockdown and COVID Restrictions came into force in March 2020; was it not obvious, this was going impact on the whole of the UK Economy? Why did it takes 6 to 7 months for the Town Council to agree a revised budget and then agree to a 42% increase in the precept for the tax year 2021/2022?

Again, Under the Freedom of Information Act I would ask you to clarify what strategies and work was undertaken in respect of the potential cost savings identified by Councillor Statham?. The old management maxim comes to mind, ‘No one plans to fail but they fail to plan’.

Public Toilets: Probable expenditure is £56,082 but there is no income recorded. Please explain why public toilets cannot be operated producing a surplus. Service users should at least meet all costs including operational costs plus surplus to support future capital expenditure.

Allotments: Probable expenditure is £15,071 against income, £12,274, which means the taxpayer, is subsidising allotment holders. Surely, this should make an operating surplus? and begs a further question why are taxpayers subsidising allotment holders?

Civic Hall: Probable expenditure is £292,627 against income of £18,742. Although I understand that the last twelve months would have made hiring out the Civic Hall almost impossible because of the series of lockdowns I would ask whether the charging structure needs to be reviewed and updated. Having attended modern jive events in the not distant past I was charged in the region of £12.00 per ticket and guess that the organisers were making a profit.

The Market: Probable expenditure of £164,602 against income of £71,000. It would therefore appear that the residents are subsidising the rents charged to stall holders who are operating a business for profit. As store holders are not subject to business rates making their operational costs lower than a traditional retailer perhaps you could also clarify the rationale behind the Town Council charging structure for store holders. I also understand that the Town Council is expecting to fund a major capital expenditure project in terms of roof renewal. Could you explain how this is going to be paid for. In other words, how and when are the Town Council going to make provision for this expenditure? Or can we expect yet another major percentage increase to meet cost of this major
building programme of work in 2022/2023?

Talk of the Town: The communication issued in February 2021 again at a cost to the Nantwich Residents, made no reference to the proposed increase in the Town Council Precept that was apparently authorised on the 29th October 2020. No explanation was provided as to why the increases were necessary. The publication in my opinion was poor, ineffective and a total waste of taxpayers’ money. There was no real or tangible information provided in the leaflet. The information could simply be provided on the Town Council’s Website at a considerable cost saving.

The New Corporate Strategy: Could you clarify whether all households were sent a consultation document to seek their views. If they were not consulted perhaps you would clarify the reasons behind the decision not to follow a consultative process. I understand from many of my friends from around the country that their respective councils seem to consult with council tax payers on a regular basis.

Finally, I am somewhat surprised and taken back at Councillor Moran’s remarks appertaining to the fact that the increase equates to £1.00 per week per household less than a cup of coffee. For those people furloughed or have lost their job due to COVID 19 this could be considered as an insensitive or patronising comment. (Recorded on page 3 of the minutes of the Finance Committee meeting dated 29th October 2020). Furthermore, the remarks take no account of the historically exponential increases in Council Tax over the last few years.

It does appear that residents are almost looked upon as “Cash Cows” because it is so easy for certain Town Councillors to see householders as an easy source of revenue.

I look forward to receiving your response to my correspondence together with the specific information I have requested under the Freedom of Information Act. In the meantime, please feel free to circulate my communication to all members of the Town Council.

Yours,

Ian Hughes
Nantwich

10 Comments

  1. Drew Peacock says:

    I feel the original letter should be forwarded to Private Eye magazine to be shown under the Rotten Borough’s column.

  2. Graham Fenton says:

    Stephen- Totally Agree – all I was stating was fact as per the NTC report – it is not just Cllr Moran – it is other Councillors who agreed that we the Nantwich residents would find the increase acceptable if they presented it correctly. I find it difficult to understand why the town precept for a Band E House is £213.63 and the same Band E House in the same built up area is £23.42 in a parish area. There has been a pre-consultation regarding boundaries and at the moment that area is recommended to stay outside Nantwich by CEC.

    I stand by my words – when Nantwich residents are represented by Councillors who live within the Nantwich boundary that will be paying the precept and hopefully understand the problems such a big precept can be.

    • Stephan says:

      Thanks Graham.

      Yes, it seems that, the Town Council are hopeful that CEC will realign Edleston/Henhull boundaries to the benefit of Nantwich, in 2023 – resulting in more Precept (Town Council Tax) ie. Income for the Town Council.

      My view is that, in the interim, Nantwich Town Council must learn to live within it’s means – and stop inflicting the burden of their spending upon the residents who live within the boundary of the town. It is very easy to spend OTHER people’s money!

      During this Time of Adversity:

      (1) Why do we need a £70,000 Cherry Picker – now!? ….. Other councils manage perfectly well by hiring one (without paying the on-costs). I have looked for a business case – and cannot find one.

      (2) Why do we need to increase our wages bill by appointing a Deputy Town Clerk – Now!? …… The town has managed perfectly well to date, without one!.

      (3) Why do we need to increase our wages bill by appointing a Nantwich Ranger? (I am told his/her main duty will be litter picking; We already have a wonderful army of Litter Picking Volunteers …….. doing a fantastic job).

      These spending decisions should be made ONLY as a result of a Cost/Benefits Analysis – when (AND IF) the boundaries are changed in 2023.

      Surely, this can be the ONLY way to treat the residents of the town fairly.

  3. Nantwich resident says:

    Hi,
    This has instigated some good debate, which I think is good on matters like this. I feel that the council could have done more with consulting with residents on such a rise.
    Rumors also suggest that Cheshire East have looked at handing the swimming baths over to NTC….I don’t see Cheshire East reducing their bill when that happens, but NTC’s would go up even more…….

  4. David Goddard says:

    Significant house building has taken place and is continuing within what most people would consider Nantwich, although it does not fall within the a Town Council boundaries. A boundary review is urgently needed to reflect the changed reality. With this any improved amenity would have its cost allocated to all who gain most from it.
    To have councillors involved in setting a precept when they are not personally charged with it seems reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party

  5. Graham Fenton says:

    Ian – I think you are being a little hard on Cllr. Arthur Moran. There were others as below – and of course in the December Full Council meeting it the Budget increase was voted for by the majority of members.

    NANTWICH TOWN COUNCIL
    CAPITAL & REVENUE BUDGET 2021/22

    Councillor Moran added that it is important to have a resilient budget for when the country does come out of the pandemic.
    Councillor Groves supported all the comments made by members, adding that the council should also consider the impact of Brexit and a potential no deal. He also suggested that it is important how you communicate any precept increases with residents, if an explanation was given to residents carefully detailing the reasons then it may be more accepting.
    The Chair supported the suggestion of careful communication with residents by Councillor Groves, as did Councillor Bostock who also added that he believes residents would look at the monitory value of any precept increase rather than the percentage value. Councillor Bostock also advised that the draft Corporate Strategic Plan had been well received by the community Councillor Staley added that he believed the community would be accepting of an additional £1 per week on the precept, particularly given the situation so long as it was explained properly.
    Councillor Statham asked how much the £959K precept or £1 per week per household equate to in percentages, and suggested that more time should be given to considering the buget. The Clerk advised that it would equate to 42.5%.
    Councillor Moran proposed to recommend to full council the original draft budget as presented by the Clerk with a precept increase of £1 per week for a typical band D property (42.5%).
    Councillor Statham requested a named vote.

    Those in favour of the proposal by Councillor Moran – Councillors Stuart Bostock, Phil Staley, David Marren (Chair) and David Greaves.
    Those against the proposal by Councillor Moran – Councillor Statham
    There were no abstentions.

    Observations: Nantwich Town Council is made up of 12 members who represent Nantwich.

    5 Councillors do not live in Nantwich. Should we not at the next election in 2023 ensure that we have candidates who live within Nantwich? This would ensure they understand the true cost of the Town precept v Parish precepts which are a lot less even though they are part of the built up area.

    • Stephan says:

      Graham – With the greatest respect, I find it difficult to accept that, Band D households in Nantwich will be asked to pay £174.79 from April. Whereas, Congleton £89.31, Knutsford £88.02, Sandbach £84.91, Alsager £84.79, Crewe £77.89, Macclesfield £48.90. Ian is right to raise his concerns.

      In addition to the excellent points raised by Ian, I struggle to understand why Nantwich Town Council have ordered a Cherry-Picker at a cost of £70,000 (plus on costs) and initiated plans to recruit a Deputy Town Clerk to the already substantial staffing establishment (Nantwich employs 14, Sandbach 8). These decisions are out of step during these difficult times – when many people who work in the private sector fear for their job security.

  6. Steve says:

    Thanks Ian, ive been thinking about this but not known how to articulate or where to point my thoughts. Highest town tax in cheshire yet the condition of the town is poor. Its a lovely town, but not because of new money or recent decisions. A bit of scrutiny seems fair

  7. Observer says:

    A great piece of writing Ian I felt when reading it we are all affected by varying degrees to certain aspects of the script when in fact we are all contributing to the whole of the script, why is it when an increase is on the cards Mr Moran’s name is usually in the article playing it down or trivializing it.

  8. Kevin Wood says:

    The civic hall loses money every year, yet they recently ploughed several hundred thousand investment into expanding it. A few years back they gave thousands to the tennis club which is a private members club. The financial decision making is shocking and in my opinion out of control.

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