Agenda item

Funding Arrangements with Parish Councils - Update following Consultation


The Director of Finance and Transformation referred to the two recent consultations on the potential withdrawal of Council Tax Reduction grants to parish councils and the potential introduction of a Special Expenses Scheme (Fairer Charging) in place of the s136 Financial Arrangements with Parish Councils Scheme.  The latter was aimed at achieving savings where possible and to provide equity for residents throughout Tonbridge and Malling.


Both consultations had ended on 20 June 2016 and Parish Councils were thanked for their participation.  The responses received had been considered by a Special Cabinet meeting held on 28 July and a preferred way forward formulated for recommendation to Council in November.


With regard to Council Tax Reduction grants it was proposed that these grants would be withdrawn with effect from April 2017, subject to Council approval.   The Panel was reminded that the Borough Council had no statutory obligation to passport funding to parishes and, in fact, many local authorities had already withdrawn this financial support as a result of the reduction in local government funding from Central Government. 


However, the impact on some Parish Councils was recognised and the Director of Finance and Transformation offered to discuss the implications to individual parishes out of meeting.


In respect of Fairer Charging it was proposed to introduce a Special Expenses Scheme from April 2017 and withdraw financial support (through s136 grants) to Parish Councils at the same time, subject to comment from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September and final approval of Council in November 2016.


Following responses received from parish councils and residents a number of changes had been made to the initial proposals.   The consultation had highlighted an issue regarding Tonbridge Cemetery and after further reflection the Borough Council felt that this should not be included in the Special Expenses Scheme on the grounds that it was a facility that was available equally to all residents in Tonbridge and Malling.


Reference was also made to open churchyards across the borough and, whilst there was no obligation on the Borough Council (or parish councils) to provide financial support, Members had requested that some further work be undertaken.  Information was to be sought from the church authorities on the capacity status of open churchyards throughout the Borough to enable further consideration of whether some funding (under section 214 of the Local Government Act 1972) should be offered to Parochial Church Councils to support their maintenance in furtherance of the previous policy in this regard.  The Director of Finance and Transformation stressed that this work had not been undertaken and therefore no decisions had yet been made.


At the current time, Christmas lighting was not included in the Special Expenses Scheme although the Borough Council recognised that there was an inequity between Tonbridge and the parished areas of the borough as there were differing funding arrangements in place.  With this in mind, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee would undertake a thorough review and explore alternative opportunities.  It was hoped that a new system could be adopted for Christmas 2017.


The Director of Finance and Transformation recognised the concerns of Parish Councils regarding the introduction of ‘capping’ and indicated that the Borough Council continued to make informal enquiries with Government.


Details of the projected timetable for the proposals were available in full on the Borough Council website but summarised below:


13 September – Overview and Scrutiny Committee review proposals for Special Expenses and make recommendations to Cabinet

12 October – Cabinet considers proposals and any recommendations from Overview and Scrutiny and makes recommendations to Full Council


1 November – Full Council considers final proposals and approves/adopts Special Expenses Policy


December – Parish Councils contacted with information for budget setting 


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