Don't cancel the 2015 precept worth average 50p per week - the £350000 reserves need spending on things for the benefit of the people of Belper, such as community centers, the river gardens, keeping toilets open, young peoples groups etc.
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On the 20th January, Belper Town council proposes to cut the local council tax by the price of a bag of crisps a week, for just one year, thus using up nearly a quarter of million pounds that could be go so far to building permanent and lasting facilities for the town.
Since 2005 Conservative controlled Belper Town Council has accumulated an unusually large financial reserve of well over £350,000. Decisions about how to use the reserve and also about setting next year’s Town Council Charge, or Precept, must be made on 20th January. In the past the council has talked of using the reserve to fund a council office but nothing has been decided and the Conservative Councillors don’t seem to have noticed the continuing need for resources for the River Gardens, channels, public toilets, dog fouling, young people and community organisations. There are some questions which badly need answers:
· Why is there no plan, investment strategy, annual review, risk assessment, or any other organised information about this reserve readily accessible on the council website, as is clearly available on many other small town council websites? Do such essential documents even exist and were these matters ever addressed by the Conservative Councillors?
· Minutes of a Belper Town Council meeting in February 2014 state that ‘the Committee agreed to spend the council reserves by the end of March 2015.’ Firstly, no responsible council ever tries to manage on zero reserves. Secondly, hardly any reserves have actually been spent by the Council this financial year. Meanwhile hard working local groups and charities are left in need of support and the Town’s public facilities badly need investment.
There has never been a proper public consultation or adequate discussion about how this money should be managed. Only two Conservative members on the financial subcommittee of the council (which has six members ) ,husband and wife team Councillors Alan Cox and Jackie Cox , met on December 18th and the results of their deliberations on the budget and reserves will be discussed at full council – open to the public – at St Johns Chapel at 7pm on 20th January.
After nine years of salting away tens of thousands every year, in a last minute move that smacks of panic, Conservatives are proposing to reduce the Belper Town Council Precept, an average of less than fifty pence a week to Belper residents, to zero for the next financial year. In other words, instead of using the money constructively, fritter away about £240,000, two thirds of the reserve, to pay for normal council expenses next year. As cuts are reducing all public services and central government support for councils is also cut it is even more important that Belper Town Council uses its resources wisely. The Council supports a number of facilities, groups and activities, which is to its credit. But why abandon the chance to do much more to make Belper a better place? Why propose an irresponsible election year give away, which has not been discussed with residents and is not even part of a proper financial strategy?
We need a careful process of consultation with Belper residents about how best to use next year’s town council charge and the considerable asset to the town of such a substantial reserve, which is much more than a full year Council budget. The current Conservative led Council has not addressed its responsibilities in the management of its reserve responsibly, openly or in a timely manner. The meeting on 20th January must not be allowed to rush through irresponsible decisions about such substantial public funding.
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