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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 02/12/2003
Reference from the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee



Summary & Purpose
The purpose of this report is to seek the Executive's views on the proposal to undertake a council tax consultation exercise in the future, for Waverley’s element of the charge. This report was considered by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 17th November 2003.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
N/A
N/A
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive



E-Government implications:

The consultation exercise will, wherever possible, use electronic collection, analysis and publication of data.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no specific legal implications as a result of this report. There are likely to be resource implications in terms of staff time and costs of employing specialist consultation services. These resources will be calculated when the format and timing of any consultation exercise has been agreed.

Introduction and Background

1. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister issued the report “Council Tax Consultation – Guidelines for Local Authorities” in June 2002. It draws on the experience of councils in consulting local people over council tax and budget issues. Its premise is that, just as councils are ‘market leaders’ in consultation in general, this should be extended to consultation over local budget issues. The report argues that this should be achieved in a more strategic and comprehensive manner, bearing in mind local circumstances.

The report also points out that
There is a public expectation to be consulted
Consultation doesn’t remove member responsibility to make the final judgement on spending and council tax decisions
Consultation provides information on priorities
It indicates how far people are prepared to fund public services

2. Public Consultation on Budgets is not new to Waverley. The Council has consulted on 3 previous occasions:
The Community’s perception of the relative importance of the proposed capital schemes - October 1994
Waverley Borough Council Revenue Budget for 1996/97 – January 1996
Waverley Borough Council Budget Proposals for 1998/99 – December 1997.

Capital Schemes 1994

3. This exercise was managed by Council staff. It sought the views from 800 residents and achieved a 43% response rate. It showed at the time a strong support for spending on public conveniences, children’s play areas with less importance on recreation ground pavilions.

Budget 1996/97

4. This exercise was carried out by SSMR, part of the University of Surrey. It sought the views from 2065 residents achieving a 41% response rate. The response gave an indication where Council spending should be increased/decreased. Residents supported increased spending for day centres, village halls, CABX, meals on wheels, voluntary welfare organisations and waste recycling. Reduced spending was supported on arts and museums, planning application services and building regulations/enforcement.
On council tax levels 63% said they would prefer no change in council tax levels.
On car parking charges 70% of respondents favoured charges remaining at the present level.

Budget 1998/99

5. This exercise was again carried out by SSMR, 2105 residents views were sought with a response rate of 25% achieved. There was a huge degree of support for retaining spending on all services at present levels. Increased spending was supported for care for the elderly, facilities for young people and waste recycling. Least support continued to be given to arts schemes and planning application services.
On car parking, more people supported a reduction in charges.
Over two thirds of respondents wanted to see council tax stay at current levels.
.
Conclusion

6. Waverley’s experience on consultation mirrors that of most Councils. Whilst it is difficult, relatively expensive and time consuming it can produce valuable information in the debate on future council tax levels.

7. Given current workloads, timescales and lack of clarity surrounding the Local Government Bill, it is felt that a formal council tax consultation exercise would not be possible for 2004/05. However, with an
expectation from Government that councils will consult, an increasing pressure from the public on council tax levels and pressures to spend on services, the Council needs to consider whether it should consult on its council tax levels in the future.

Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee

8. At the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 17th November 2003, members supported council tax consultation in the future, but were keen to ensure that it was undertaken in such a way that effective results were produced for analysis. The questions would need to be carefully devised to ensure that the consultation was reasonable and appropriate. The Committee also commented that the success of any consultation would be dependent on an integrated communications service, a report on which is featured elsewhere on this agenda. This would encourage effective communication with members of the public throughout the consultation process.

Recommendation

The Executive is invited to give consideration as to whether it would wish to undertake a process of council tax consultation in the future.


Background Papers (DoF)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.


CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Paul Wenham Telephone: 01483 523238
E-mail: pwenham@waverley.gov.uk