With the finances of Northants County Council headline news at the moment, I thought it might be useful to explain how Potterspury Parish Council raises the money it needs and how it manages its finances.
As the lowest tier of local authorities in Northamptonshire, we raise our regular income from a precept, which is part of the Council Tax. The tax is collected by South Northants Council (SNC) and paid directly to the Parish Council, so it is unaffected by the budget difficulties of others.
Parish precepts are often ignored by the press because they are invariably the smallest part of the Council Tax and the amounts vary from village to village. In Potterspury our precept funds street-lighting, mowing, litter and dog bins, tree pruning and playground maintenance. We monitor our finances monthly and this financial year it looks like our expenditure will be close to our agreed budget.
Next financial year, the Parish Council Tax for our village will be £72.38 per year for each Band D property – an increase of £1.20 per property or 1.69%. Across the SNC district council area, of the 66 parishes that raise a precept, 20 have a higher tax and our rate falls just below the average for the district.
In terms of efficiently managing our finances we are subject to both internal and external audits. One of the auditor’s requirements is for us to have adequate reserves in case of unforeseen problems: this is usually around one year’s expenditure. We currently have £72,000 in the bank and our yearly budget is around £42,000. There are several reasons for this seemingly higher than normal figure.
For several years we have been allocating money to our reserves for projects that require significant costs – effectively saving to provide money for capital projects. This is a more effective and flexible way than seeking loans, particularly since we would need government permission to do so. The projects we have earmarked for funding include renewing play equipment (Meadow View Play Area equipment is coming to the end of its useful life and street-lighting (replacing some wooden poles and head fittings). Together these two items come close to £25,000. We are also holding around £7,000 that was kindly donated by the public some year ago for the Conservation Area and this can only be spent on this project. This means the reserves not allocated to projects are around £39,000.
When planning major projects we try to obtain matched grant funding to enable our money to go further. This was how the MUGA and Skatepark developments were organised. We are investigating this approach for funding playground developments at Blackwell End and for upgrading the Village Hall. There are also some funds earmarked for Potterspury that are held by South Northants Council that can be accessed for leisure capital projects. Utilising these sources reduces the impact on Council Tax payers.
Our accounts are open for yearly public scrutiny and budget information is presented at our monthly meetings. Parish councillors are all volunteers and our only paid official is our clerk.
Chair, Potterspury Parish Council