Local Government finance is a labyrinth. The Council’s accounts are a piece of masterful obfuscation. On the face of it they do a remarkably good job, consistently under shooting budgets, and making efficiency savings. But remember, this is the Council which blew £1.3 million of your money on golden goodbyes for senior officers.
SSDC’s council Tax at £1,449 for a Band D property is the highest in Somerset. Only £9 million (10 per cent) of the tax raised is spent by the District Council. (See this post). However the Council has additional sources of revenue –
Government grants (still your money!) – £11 million (14%)
Benefit Subsidy (still your money!) – £46 million (56%)
Fees and charges -£14 million (17%)
Income from investments – £1.3 million (2%)
This gives it a combined income in the region of £81.8 million, about £521 per member of the population it serves.
That’s the easy part. Unraveling where all the money went is not easy, since the Council very cleverly mixes up all the expenditure under arbitrary and sometimes inpenetrable headings. It also talks about “net expenditure” (the amount of council tax payers’ money spent after taking into account other income and grants). It is therefore not easy to see exactly how much money was spent, and on what.
If you see the District Council’s job as simply collecting rubbish, keeping the streets clean, regulating planning and building control, then you might wonder where the rest of the money was spent.
Looking at the Council’s website, there appear to be a number of worthy, but ultimately ineffectual activities which would only by missed by the jobsworths who have responsibility for them.
Here is a list of items, taken from the last published accounts for 2009/10, published in September. They have been chosen because they have more than a whiff of jargon and wonk-speak about them, and they surely do not (can not?) deliver the value of the funds spent on them. Bonfire anyone?
Strategic management 718
Place & Performance 404
Economic development 576
Spatial Policy 2,471
Third Sector & Partnerships 332
Local Strategic partnerships 55
The SSDC employs 520 people at a total cost in 2010 of some £19.3million. That’s an average of £37,136 per employee! Wow! Plenty of scope for a cost/benefit analysis there.
There is room for cuts which would prune the establishment, without cutting so-called front line jobs or damaging essential services. Every little helps as the saying goes, but in order to have an effect on the level of Council Tax, the other beneficiaries from this pot of gold also have to make equally dramatic cuts – the Police, The County Council, the Fire and Rescue service. Only 10 per cent of your Council Tax goes to the District Council, remember.
The Blog would welcome your comments, especially if you are a candidate in the forthcoming elections.