Saturday, March 20, 2010


There's a very useful and informative chart in the latest issue of North Lincolnshire Council's Direct Magazine, showing how much of your 2010/11 council tax bill can be put down to the parish precept.
All Brigg households will have received a copy together with that often dreaded bill for council tax covering the new financial year starting soon.
In Brigg a Band D household will pay £66.76p for the next financial year - not much more than a quid a week - to fund Brigg Town Council's work. But Band D folk in Scunthorpe pay only £33.07p in "Parish Charges" - almost exactly half the Brigg payment.
Scunthorpe has no parish/town councils - not even in Ashby, which has a much bigger population than Brigg (Approx 9,000+ to our 5,000+ based on North Lincolnshire Council's own website figures). So you might wonder why steel town households have to cough up anything at all. And how does North Lincolnshire Council arrive at the sum it's making them pay? After all, "No taxation without representation" was the demand which led to what's now the United States gaining independence from Britain.
But think a little deeper: We pay council tax to fund local services. Brigg Town Council oversees facilities like the Angel Suite community venue and the allotments, the 3Bs Youth Project, plus awarding grants to worthy organisations based in the town and being able to object to planning applications (and other issues) which prove unpopular with local people - before 'big brother' North Lincolnshire makes final decisions.
Scunthorpe and Ashby residents have a range of community centres provided for them in their towns, plus allotments. And many Scunthorpe and Ashby groups (quite rightly) can still apply for grants to help with their good work - but from North Lincolnshire not a local parish body.
Would it be fair for Brigg - and all the other parishes surrounding Scunthorpe - to have to fund their own village halls, etc, while households in the steel town get theirs provided by North Lincolnshire Council at no extra charge? The answer, of course, is No - which is why Scunthorpe and Ashby folk have to pay Parish Charges to North Lincolnshire, even though they have no parish council representation.
But as the majority of facilities in this area are in Scunthorpe and Ashby, shouldn't the Parish Charge there be the highest in the district?
This strange situation was caused by local government reorganisation - no surprise there, then! Prior to the formation of North Lincolnshire Council in 1996, major services (like education, highways and social services) were provided by Humberside County Council (abolished in April that year), with Brigg-based Glanford Borough Council managing secondary services (like refuse collection, social housing and local planning), and Brigg Town Council doing much the same as it does today. Scunthorpe - up to April 1996 - had a borough council on a par with Glanford but never any parish councils.
When the government pressed ahead with unitary authorities (eg North Lincolnshire) there was provision for things called Neighbourhood Councils to be established in places like Scunthorpe - working in exactly the same way as parish and town councils. A senior council officer was assigned to float the idea but the good people of the steel town never took to the concept and nothing more was heard of it.
Neighbourhood Councils could have been established, say, for Crosby, Ashby or Riddings. Perhaps because no lowest level of local government had existed in Scunthorpe, no-one wanted them.
But surely a place the size of Ashby ought to have its own Neighbourhood Council, and even its own first citizen (Town Mayor).
The chart in Direct magazine gives the 'Local Tax Base' for Scunthorpe as 16,925 (households paying council tax), compared with Brigg's 1,753; Bottesford has 3,750 (paying £26.65p for 2010/11) and Barton 3,397 (paying £48.22p).
It still seems possible to set up Neighbourhood Councils within Scunthorpe and Ashby. If that happened, it would be interesting to see whether the subsequent Parish Charge introduced was lower than the seemingly abitary figure currently assigned across the whole of the area formerly covered by Scunthorpe Borough Council.
Make what you will of the Parish Charges chart on page 26 of Direct Magazine. I've long been an admirer of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli but can't agree with his famous quote: "There are three kinds of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics."
Sadly, to me - an anorak if ever there was one - local government finances are of great interest. Especially if I'm coughing up well over a grand, like the rest of you, in North Lincolnshire council tax for 2010/11.

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