Revealing, confusing, interesting and astonishing – how your Town Council is spending your money

It’s revealing to read the Responsible Financial Officer’s (i.e. the Town Clerk’s) explanation of significant variances to budget in the Town Council’s expenditure over the past year. This is in preparation for its Finance & Resources Management Committee meeting to be held on 24th April.

Subscriptions

Although within budget, £1,900 on subscriptions seems excessive for the Town Council. What benefit is obtained from membership of NABMA (National Association of British Market Authorities)? The town markets appear to be moribund so why pay a subscription? What value is obtained?

As regards SALC (Shropshire Association of Local Councils), as you’ll see below, advice is being taken from advisers and barristers. Why duplicate?

Advertising and publishing

At £1,045, the budget is overspent by 522%. It isn’t clear what benefit is derived from the £750 paid for an advertisement in ‘Welcome to Shropshire’. Googling this finds a website that is very dated with dead links, etc. Hopefully the Town Council has spent our money elsewhere – and to better effect.

Professional fees

Although the overspend is modest at £232, it is worth dwelling on the Town Council’s annual fee for “employment services” at £1,995. This is expenditure that didn’t feature in the Town Council’s finances a couple of years ago. What benefit has been derived, other than advice to spend further taxpayer’s money on a barrister’s fee for legal advice of £850? This, of course, is in addition to the £988 spent with SALC and the £244 fee paid to SLCC (Society of Local Council Clerks). Both of whom claim to offer advice to local councils and clerks.

Town archives

This is confusing – but no doubt Town Council Members understand it. £3,024 of expenditure is shown against a budget of £1,000, giving an overspend of £2,024.

The explanation reads “Income of £12,953 was received for this project in 2016. This includes a HLF grant of £6,100, the balance made up from donations. Shropshire Council has also made an in-kind donation of £3,950. Expenditure to date is £14,435.15 and income to date is £12,953. The Town Council agreed to contribute £2,500 (not included)” Clear as mud?

Music licence

This is interesting. Putting aside the statement that it “covers 2 years (only budgeted for PRS and not PPL)” and that there’s an overspend of £271, why should the Town Council be paying a fee to PRS (Performing Right Society) and PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd)? Where is the benefit to Council tax payers?

Environmental Services

And, if that last item was interesting, this is fascinating! It is an overspend of £219 for “New time clock for Christmas lights at Back Lane car park”. The overspend in itself seems regrettable but, when the expenditure figure of £4,260 is considered against a budget figure of £4,041, it appears incredible. One can only hope that the description is misleading. And that the figure of £4,260 is also a mistake, given that there has been significant local community fund-raising for the Christmas lights. And, reportedly, the now-defunct Chamber of Trade has made a contribution of £2,000-plus to the lights.

Non-domestic rates

This is astonishing. No budget has been set for the rates for the Corn Exchange or the Guildhall, yet Non Domestic Rates (NDR) have been paid, totalling £5,567. Rates were paid in the last financial year at approximately these same levels. How can “misinformed that property was eligible for NDR” be justified? The budget comment says “This property is no longer on the rating list” in both cases. This seems naïve, at best.

There are other overspends, or items for which no budget has been set, which presumably means that the Town Council has exceeded its budget for the year. It’s hard to tell, however, because only expenditure items over £500 are shown on the Town Council’s website. Maybe we should return to the old days where every item of expenditure was considered at Town Council meetings and minuted so that everyone could see where their money was going on a monthly basis.

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