Stone Parish Council

Annual Council Budget 2014-15

Stone Parish Council Annual Budget 2014-15Stone Parish Council has formally approved the annual budget for 2014-15, lining up a whole host of support and benefits to young, old, unemployed and working parish residents.

Building on seven years of commitment to youth provision, the council’s offering is further enhanced in 2014 through the establishment of two apprenticeship placements, administrative and horticultural, providing local youths with valuable skills and experience while they train in a related subject.

Assistance for business start-ups will be created through introduction of a virtual office service from Stone Pavilion, enabling fledgling parish businesses to operate from a professional business address and make use of meeting room, reception facilities, and reduced print costs.

The council is keen that the current squeeze on local government finance does not result in decline of the local street scene and has committed a budget to enable installation, upgrade or replacement of bins, benches and other fixtures at council parks and gardens to ensure residents can maintain a sense of pride in their surroundings.

Provision has been made to continue the Stone Heritage Project, which aims to establish an online portal enabling access to digitized council minutes from 1896 onwards, parish photos and maps, and an archive of press cuttings helping existing and new residents to appreciate the history of the parish.

The council will continue to provide a dedicated base at Stone Pavilion for the delivery of advice services to local residents needing help with financial, legal or other worries.

On top of introduction of new services, the council has reconfirmed its popular annual calendar of community events offering a fantastic mix of activities for all ages, which are all free for residents to attend.

This includes Stone Fete, the Easter Egg Hunt, Remembrance Service and Christmas Light Switch-On; as well as continued support for the popular monthly senior citizens tea & cake mornings, providing an opportunity for social interaction, provision of valuable advice, and educational presentations by topical speakers.

However, despite the positive ambitions of the budget, the council has also been required to confront declining financial support in the form of reduced grants to support services.

Following legislative changes in 2013 to the way that council tax is collected and distributed, parish and town councils continue to feel the brunt of dwindling grants to support local activities, leaving many with a sizable deficit to manage.

Grant funding has been provided by central government to borough and district councils to pass on to parishes in their area to support budgets affected by the council tax changes, however many local authorities have chosen to reduce the level of funding passed down, with some choosing not to devolve any funding whatsoever.

Understandably, this has caused considerable unrest within the sector and, following significant lobbying, it is understood that Brandon Lewis MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government) has written personally to district leaders to ensure funding is passed on.

Dartford Borough Council continues to show commitment to pass on grant funding, although resolved to reduce this by 15% for 2014-15 to reflect the overall reduction in the Revenue Support Grant provided to local authorities.

Dartford Council has also reduced funding provided to parishes via S136, historically provided to offset concurrent functions and prevent double taxation, in favour of establishment of a parish grant scheme designed to support collaborative or innovative parish schemes.

In total, the parish council faces a reduction in funding of £10,263, equivalent to 20% of its grant funding compared to the previous year.

In order to deliver the positive ambitions of the budget, the council has been required to make savings by reducing overheads and resolve a small tax rise to meet funding deficits.

Unlike other tiers of authority, central government doesn’t provide any grants to enable parish and town councils to achieve a council tax freeze resulting in the need for the annual parish tax to increase from £67.09 to £71.01 for a Band D property. This represents a rise of £3.92 (6%) per year or 7.5p per week.

The council is committed to ongoing reviews of expenditure to ensure efficiency across all services and to give attention to income generating activities to reduce pressure on local taxpayers as much as possible.

Following a review of its business strategy, the council has increased its proportion of income from services from 9% in 2007 to a proposed level of 23% in the forthcoming budget. The council hopes this will continue to help mitigate further expected reductions in funding over the next few years.

The council welcomes feedback regarding budget proposals. To submit comments regarding the budget, or to find out about any of the new services proposed in the budget, please email clerk@stoneparishcouncil.com