Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
The Mayor introduced the item which set out the proposed Budget for the forthcoming year.
During the discussion of this item, Members made comments and asked questions which included:-
· A question was raised as to whether Somerset West and Taunton Council was intending to continue to raise Special Expenses on the Unparished Area (whilst separate from this Budget) would enable the Unparished Area to still benefit from projects on a smaller scale that a Town/Parish Council usually provided?
· The Clerk to the Charter Trustees clarified that the budget paper before Councillors only dealt with the costs associated with the Charter Trustees which were mainly around the Mayoralty and Civic Function. The discussions around the decision as to whether levy Special Expenses were still ongoing and this would be ultimately decided at the SWT Budget Setting meeting on the 19th February 2020. Officers were in negotiations with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to investigate this.
· Cllr Smith-Roberts clarified that as Leader of SWT the administration had supported Officers to investigate precepting for Special Expenses on the Unparished Area of Taunton with MHCLG, as previously undertaken. MHCLG had been told that with the advent of the Charter Trustees Special Expenses were no longer going to be levied as Officers had originally understood Charter Trustees to be able to be able to precept for things much like a Town Council which they cannot do so. Secretary of State Approval was still being awaited for approval but it was envisioned this would be resolved before Budget Setting at the District level.
· The Clerk to the Charter Trustees confirmed that the precepting power of the Charter Trustees was separate to the SWT power to request to precept for Special Expenses.
· Comment was made that Somerset West and Taunton had expected that Charter Trustees for Taunton were going to be in many regards like a Town Council when in fact the restrictions imposed on what Charter Trustees could precept for meant it was not. The Special Expenses would be able to achieve some things but could not fund the full breadth of activities that a Town/Parish Council could with the amount expected and the District had to be cognisant of that and take steps to remedy in the short-term. The residents of the Unparished Area would continue to be significantly disadvantaged until then.
· There was a current amount of around £22,000 in the biddable pot and this would be clarified if this could be carried forward for future years to be distributed by the Standing Committee of the Charter Trustees.
· The Mayor requested that the Budget report and the Accommodation line was amended to reduce the number of Standing Committee meetings was reduced from eight to four.
· The Clerk to the Charter Trustees clarified that this would reduce the amount precepted for from £2640 to £1760 for accommodation and the total figure reduced from £52,020 to £51,140 and from £3.40 to £3.34 on a Band D Property.
· Councillor Marcia Hill seconded the Mayor’s proposal and Councillors supported the amendment.
· Comment was made that the charging of a commercial rate for accommodation was an aspect that could be considered unfair and was being used to push undue costs onto the Charter Trustees.
· It was suggested that the start times of the meeting could be changed so that a Security Guard would not need to be used as is the case for all evening meetings at The Deane House.
· Concern was raised of the difficulty of forging a separate identity whilst still holding the meetings in the District Council’s offices.
· The costs of the hire of The Deane House were comparable to the Albemarle Centre and other commercial room hire facilities in the town. The removal of the security guard costs would equate to only £360 for the year.
· Councillors requested a more detailed understanding of the Mayoral Activities and Events Budget line.
· Officers had investigated the spend associated with the former Mayor of Taunton Deane in previous years to come up with an estimated cost for the forthcoming year. The budget set this year for this had been set at a prudent £15,000 but this was likely to be underspent. A further report on the final spends for the 19/20 would be brought back in due course after the end of the financial year.
· A query was raised as to the elimination of a potential Mayoral Small Grants pot that had been included in previous versions of the paper?
· This had been included but following feedback at the meetings in advance of this one had been removed, as its purpose seemed vague and the Special Expenses was felt to be the priority to ensure was kept.
· The Mayor also mentioned that the Alderman Spear’s Contribution to the Mayor’s Christmas fund for the needy of Taunton at Christmas could fulfil this role.
· A further report would be brought back to a meeting of the Charter Trustees detailing this fund and its proposed future.
· It was raised that it would be beneficial if the Charter Trustees could in some way reward young people in the town for their contributions. It was requested that the Civic links and the Civic Dinners with the Twinning Groups involved young people. Bridgwater and Taunton College catering students could be involved in catering for these dinners which would involve young people and also reduce the costs.
· The Mayor encouraged that this idea was communicated to the Twinning Groups.
· Cllr Lisgo requested that the concerns expressed were recorded and communicated to the rest of SWT Council.
Councillor Marcia Hill proposed the main motion which was seconded by Councillor Prior-Sankey.
RESOLVED that the Charter Trustees for Taunton set a precept for the financial year 2020/2021 at the amount of £51,140, to be collected on their behalf from the Unparished Area of Taunton ratepayers by Somerset West and Taunton as the billing authority. This is equivalent to £3.34 expenditure per Band D property.
Report author: Marcus Prouse
Publication date: 14/02/2020
Date of decision: 23/01/2020
Decided at meeting: 23/01/2020 - Taunton Charter Trustees