The following press release was issued today:
Mid Derbyshire Green Party has helped overturn plans by the chairman of Belper Town Council’s finance working party to spend two thirds of their £350,000 reserves by not charging any council tax precept for Belper this year.
At a meeting of the council on Tuesday evening (20th Jan), strong concerns were voiced by councillors that the decision to recommend refunding £243,125 to the townspeople via their tax bills was made at a working party meeting – attended only by Cllr Alan Cox and his wife Cllr Jackie Cox – on December 18 last year. Four other members of the working party couldn’t get to the meeting and sent apologies, but Mr and Mrs Cox decided to proceed with the meeting even though it was inquorate.
Members of the public, many of them from the Green Party, attended the full meeting of the council at St John’s Chapel in Belper to protest at the proposal. Without exception, public speakers said that the money in reserve should be spent on projects to benefit the town.
Comments made by residents who had signed a 174-name petition against the proposal were read out before it was officially handed over by their spokesman. The improved provision of public toilets was high on the wish list of the residents many of whom said they felt the council was out of touch with public feeling.
Four people, two of them Green Party candidates standing in Belper at the elections in May, spoke out against Cllr Cox’s recommendation before the final decision was made. The majority of the councillors, including the Mayor and his son Dan Booth, the deputy Mayor, backed the public opinion and when it came to the vote, only Mr and Mrs Cox voted in favour of the recommendation.
So now the normal precept is going to be charged for the year 2015/16 and a decision on how to spend the money will be made at a future meeting.
The vast reserve of money accumulated over a number of years was last discussed in public last January (2014) when it was agreed that it needed to be spent by March 2015. At the time Cllr Alan Broughton suggested that the townspeople be asked for ideas on how to spend it.
Various grants have been made to charities and groups in the town during the year as usual but none of that has come from the reserves and no obvious attempt to gauge public opinion has been made.
Sue MacFarlane, the Green Party’s candidate for Belper North in the upcoming Amber Valley Borough Council elections, wanted to know why Cllr Broughton’s suggestion to ask the townspeople what they wanted to spend it on 12 months ago had not been followed up.
“Whilst I can understand how a cut in the Precept in an election year may appear to be the right thing to do if you are hoping to get re-elected to this council, I don’t think it is appropriate to use this money as a pre-election rate cut. A cynical person could surmise that the council did not want anyone to come up with any ideas,” she said.
Both Sue MacFarlane and John Devine, the Green Party candidate for the Belper North Ward for Belper Town Council, offered to help in any way possible to generate public discussion on the matter. “Maybe we could have an open debate at an event in the Strutt Centre so we could decide how the money could best be spent for the long term benefit of the people of Belper,” said John, offering Green Party local members to help this to happen.
Another member of the public, Maurice Neville, who has worked as a senior local government officer, said “I was very surprised to find that there was no information at all about the reserves on the council’s website,” adding that other councils did provide such details and he was able to find them at the click of a mouse. Mr Neville pointed out documentation was vital if people were going to be able to assess the wisdom of the proposal.
If you would like to discuss this further, please contact Sue MacFarlane on 01773423758 or 07774004240, or email her (see contacts page).