Friday, January 18, 2008

The Council Budget (4) - Parish Grants

A final word, for now, on the draft Council budget, and the proposed abolition of the subsidy to the parish councils, which totals £35,000.

As I've tried to show in previous posts, this is a difficult year for the Council making a balanced budget which protects and enhances services valued by the community. There's been quite a bit of misinformation around that somehow the Council has got into financial trouble (over Pedestrian Heart and the Eatern Transport Corridor, for example) and is now having to take "desperate measures". This is very wide of the mark - rather there have been growth items such as adult services and the Council's contribution to the cost of the new national concessionary bus scheme, for example, which have necessitated a long hard look at all the areas of Council spend.

The grant to the parish councils is discretionary, non-statutory spend. As far as I can see, there is only one other Council in the North East (Derwentside) which makes such a grant.

So it could be argued that the parish grant amounts to special treatment for residents in certain rural wards, denied to those which happen to live in the urban area - in Haughton West, Haughton North, Hummerknott and Mowden, for example, (represented by a medley of Labour and Tory councillors) there is no such support from the Council to residents' groups. Is that fair when residents in the rural area receive exactly the same Council services as those in the rest of the Borough?

Having said all that, this is a matter where the Council is consulting, as it is across the rest of its budget. For the consultation to be meaningful, however, we need to hear in what areas residents would reduce spending if some options are not to be progressed. If you would like to see all the options considered by the Cabinet, you can do so here.


Ian White, said...

Sorry Nick,
Still cant agree, in principal you can juggle the figures how you want but in the grand scheme of things £35K is not a lot to DBC, but to us Parish councils its a fortune! I here your argument that other areas dont get it like mowden, hummersknot etc. but are the ward councillors having to pay out the sort of things us village councils do, for example who paid for the town Christmas tree, trivial in the big plan but until this year thanks to a kind donation we the Parish council footed the bill, do the residents of mowden have to raise money to keep there green spaces tidy etc? NO
It is wrong and deep down DBC know it is, save it somewhere else I could offer suggestions but DBC would only ignore them!
The ballot box will be the final judge of this lunacy!

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

I would be interested to learn if there was any prior consultation on withdrawing the discretionary funding with the parish councils from the 1st April 2008 or was it sprung on the Parish Councils without consultation?

ian white, said...

Not to my knowledge Alan, first I knew was an e-mail from someone who was equally shocked and would of been one of the first consulted had there been any, but you forget DBC has a bad track record at counsultelling!

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

Is this right Nick?

ian holme said...

The Parish grant is in place for 2008/2009.
Its removal is proposed 2009 onwards.
As Ian W has already alluded to, the village communities have issues and responsibilites very particular to them. Be it the Grange community centre which gets NO support from dbc or the difficulty of the young and old accessing the facilities mostly available in the urban area.

In the scheme of things, the total of 34k offers great value to DBC given the extent of roles and responsibilities taken by the Parish Councils. To be put into perspective, it is proposed that DBC save 30k by removing ONE post from the team supporting the towns community p/ships. (not that i am attacking community p/ships)

I am frankly amazed given the much vaunted "engagement" of the communities since the election that this proposal saw the light of day. Talk about appearing vindictive!

Someone who walks over the by-pass because they can't afford the high car parking charges said...

Dare I ask why all those bodies were standing at every road entrance, crossing, pelican etc around the town centre ring road today in temperatures in the 40's?
When I asked one man who was counting by way of the '5 bar gate' method why he was doing it....he replied "I don't know".
Maybe you know Nick, how many people and for what and at what cost per hour?


Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Ian W - I'm not sure that your point about the Christmas tree is a sound line of argument. After all, the Christmas tree in the town centre wasn't there for the "urban dwellers" but rather everyone who lives, works or shops in town, wherever they live. If the community in Mowden had wanted to put up a tree, there would have been no support from the Council for them to do so.

This is why I talk about a level playing field. Residents in the Borough, wherever they live, receive the same level of service from the Council. Why should some residents have a subsidy to provide extra services not enjoyed by others? It's a matter of equity. After all, for a few pounds per resident every year the parish councils have the ability to raise the same amount of money via the precept, if there's something extra residents want in their community.

Whilst it's not a killer argument, I would repeat that there is only one other Council in the whole of the North East that also provides this subsidy. Everywhere else, presumably (where there are parishes) it is for those town and parish councils to raise funds via the precept.

Still the debate continues, and the Council is listening to the points raised. What is disappointing is that to date I have not heard a great deal about how the Council should replace the money saved were these changes not to proceed.

Ian H says that the parishes get no support for the running of facilities that provide facilities for young people. I don't want to re-open that whole debate again, but the Council, via its Youth Service is helping to support the volunteers who are doing such a sterling job at the Grange. The Youth Service is certainly also active in MSG too.

Alan asks about consultation. The consultation is taking place now - pre-consultation consultation would frankly have rendered the whole process unworkable.

Finally, apologies, I don't know what the apparently bemused Council employees were doing in the town centre today, but I can try and find out...

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.

Once again, thanks Nick.

Ian Holme answered by question before you. My concern was that it appeared that the budget document had sprung the proposal for the discretionary payment on the parish councils without any prior consultation with them that this was likely to happen.

miketually said...

"I don't know what the apparently bemused Council employees were doing in the town centre today"

Presumably a traffic survey?

Martin said...

I'm not privy to what was taking place on the 22nd and doubtless Nick will respond to that as already indicated.

However, based on the description offered above and past personal experience I think it is highly unlikely that they were council employees. They are far more likely to be from a private contractor company such as (but not necessarily) They employ large numbers of casual staff to undertake various forms of surveys for a variety of commissioning bodies, including local government. I believe their rates of pay could reasonably be described as modest. A former colleague of mine once rather memorably drew a comparison between their employees and supermarket shelf-stackers, not wishing to disparage a perfectly necessary occupation of course... ;-)

That may perhaps help to explain the apparent lack of understanding of the individual quoted by the correspondent above, whose mode of transport to the town centre is envionmentally impeccable.