WTC and the 21% rise in precept for 2023-2024

Any resident of the Whitby parish who pays council tax will almost certainly have seen their council tax bill for 2023-2024, and may not have noticed the Whitby Town Council (WTC) precept has risen by some ~21% for the current year. What, you didn’t notice?!

Any change to the North Yorkshire Council council tax level would make local and national news, and is typically constrained by central government. But what happened with this local “precept” ? Why did the local council not inform its residents the reasons why it was to be increased? Good questions.

At least one resident asked their town councillor, and the reply was “what’s wrong, it’s not much is it?”. Nice use of deflection there, avoid answering a perfectly simple question.

Apparently if you delve through the WTC website and have a lot of patience (or just submit a FOI if you can’t be bothered, like us) you can get to the “agenda” of either of

Our FOI was as follows “Please can you identify the WTC meeting minutes at which the Whitby Town Council tax precept for 2023-2024 was increased 21.1%, and please let me know what was the rationale behind the increase. Such a decision should obviously be minuted.”. The reply came back

“The rationale was to achieve a balanced budget. Alongside inflationary rises in expenditure, additional provision was made for the development of a Neighbourhood Plan and engagement with the unitary council.”

If we go to those “agendas” mentioned we find the following text

3.1.Projects and Growth
No growth items have been identified by the council’s committees.
3.2.Two significant growth items arising from decisions of the council are included:
a budget to progress a Neighbourhood Plan for Whitby and a budget to prepare a response to any engagement with the unitary authority over asset and service transfer and in the development of community networking and
other engagement.

The following recommendations are made to assist the processes and issues to be considered at this Committee meeting when careful consideration will need to be given to any additional new items or projects for onward transmission to Council. The draft budget is predicated on an annual rise in the Band D equivalent council tax of £10.00 (19p per week).

So it turns out it is to pay for the progress of a Neighbourhood Plan for Whitby (which will potentially benefit the restriction of new build housing to be primary residence only etc), as well as some other items related to the Local Government Reorganisation (I’m sure we were told there would be cost savings of having 1 less tier of government, but now you get to pay more?), and some items have been affected by inflation (as they have in many other aspects of life). Anyway, we have found a supposed reason.

But why should we have to delve through the inner workings of the bureaucracy that is WTC just to get basic information from people who allegedly are working for us?

If a customer is paying for a service, and that service is going to rise, for whatever reason, then they are always told of this in advance (just like a windowcleaner, say, would advise you that he is putting prices up). Why should a council be any different? Did WTC use its website or social media to inform its residents of this and why it is necessary? Nope. This is often referred to as a “lack of respect”.

We have requested that WTC adopts a policy of informing its residents of any such change in what it charges, and starts treating them with respect. Our question to the clerk of WTC was as follows

Can WTC please discuss this matter and adopt a policy of respecting their council tax paying residents, and informing them of any change to fees being charged? The form of communication chosen could be such as the News section of the WTC website, and a social media post, for example.

We haven’t yet had a response. Perhaps you should ask your councillor what their opinion is about levying charges without explanation. You can find their contact details here.

The follow-on question clearly will be “when the Neighbourhood Plan is complete, will its part of the extra £10 be removed from the precept?

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