As our district councils enter a time of even more acute financial pressure, it has become ever more important to show to our council tax payers how every pound of their money is well spent.
As districts, we are rightly held to account for how we spend our money. But nearly four-in-ten (37%) district councils are subject to special levies imposed by internal drainage boards.
In our submission to the local government finance settlement, the District Councils’ Network (DCN) asked the Government to seriously consider removing the internal drainage board levies from the current council capping criteria.
The DCN would like these levies to be treated as a totally separate precept from that of the local authority, in just the same way as county council, police and fire precepts are.
As drainage board fees are a levy, not a precept, increases in drainage board levies are not limited and district councils must pay them out of their budget. Therefore, a major increase could have a significant effect on a council’s finances.
For example, if a drainage board chooses to increase its levy, which many may need to do in response to increased incidents of the kind of flooding many areas experienced this winter, the district council either has to raise their council tax to compensate or absorb the cost.
Given that districts are restricted to increases of 2% (or £5.00 on Band D for those in the bottom quartile of council tax rates) it is conceivable that an increase in council tax, aimed at providing essential services would have to be 'diverted' to pay the drainage board levy.
It seems an anomaly in this era of transparency and when budgets are as constrained as they are, as well as inconsistent and unreasonable, to have drainage board expenditure ‘count’ as district expenditure.
The DCN would like to work with government and our regional internal drainage boards to develop a fair and transparent system to ensure council tax payers know how their money is being spent.
Cllr Neil Clarke MBE is chairman of the District Councils’ Network.