Service warning over Heacham parish tax cap plan

Village sign. ENGANL00120121025131841
Village sign. ENGANL00120121025131841
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Services would be threatened if plans to cap the amount parish councils can raise tax by are implemented, a village authority’s chairman has warned.

Councils across Norfolk are currently being consulted on proposals which would force some of them to hold a referendum if they wanted to increase their share of the charge by a sufficient amount.

For the last four years, district and county councils, along with police commissioners, have been required to hold a referendum in order to raise their share of the council tax by more than two per cent.

The government now proposes to extend those rules to town and parish authorities whose precept charge for an average band D property is higher than the lowest charging district council and which collects at least £500,000 in precept revenue.

Heacham parish council this week voted to set up a sub-committee to look at the proposals in more detail.

Although officials there do not expect any new rule to apply to them immediately, concerns were raised that it could be extended to them in the future.

Chairman Michael Williamson said he felt the principle should be resisted.

He said: “They’ll cap us and then we can’t provide services.”

Another authority which is unhappy about the idea is Swaffham town council, which raised its precept by 5.3 per cent for the current financial year.

That increased its annual charge to £139.67 for a band D property, though officials said at the time that around three-quarters of the town’s residents are in lower tax bands.

Their precept is also nearly double the £76.45 charged by the lowest charging district council, which is Breckland.

But they accepted recommendations from their clerk, Richard Bishop, to oppose the plan at a meeting last Wednesday.

They argue the idea fails to take into account commercial initiatives established by authorities like Breckland, which help to keep their tax bills lower.

They also believe it ignores the growing trend of parish and town councils taking on services from other tiers of government.

Mr Bishop wrote: “It’s important parish and town councils are not penalised for getting their financial house in order.”

Les Scott said councils like theirs had only raised their precepts out of necessity.

And Sheila Lister added: “We need to fight this.”

Councils have until November 24 to respond to the consultation.

The Department for Communities and Local Government had not responded to a request for comment as the Lynn News went to press yesterday.

However, it has previously said residents should be “protected” from large tax increases imposed by town and parish councils and suggested that the referendum rules imposed on district and county authorities could be extended to them if they fail to act.

The department has also claimed that council tax bills are on course to be lower in real terms by 2020 than they were in 2010.