RESIDENTS in Henley-in-Arden are beginning to question exactly how much of their council tax money is pumped back into the community by their local council.
Henley Parish Council’s budget for 2014-15 will be discussed at a meeting tonight, (Monday), but residents who have seen a draft have described it as “ridiculous”, “counter-productive” and “stupid.”
Under the proposed budget, £50,000 will be spent on running the council next year while just £40,000 is given back to the community, according to the minority group Henley Independents.
They say the council is spending 56p out of every £1 on its own running costs. Not only that, the council is considering a three per cent tax increase, but will still need to take £3,400 out of its reserves.
Expenditure on salaries will increase 28 per cent from £23,450 to £30,000, while the amount spent on the community is falling by five per cent, claim the Independents.
These figures have roused many residents previously disinterested in local politics.
David Gent, aged 78, lives on High Street and has been a Henley resident for 33 years.
“I think it is absolutely ridiculous at a time when national and local authorities, even companies, are quite rightly looking at reducing their admin costs as much as possible,” he said.
“This is counter-productive and absolutely stupid. The majority in the council have for some time appeared to be totally insensitive to the growing disquiet of people like myself who are not interested in local politics. It is forcing normally disinterested members of the public to have concerns about what is going on.”
However, the council’s clerk, Jenny Walsh, said the rise in figures was because of extra pension costs and new staff, not an increase in her salary.
She said: “The bulk of this increase was due to the government decision to make it compulsory for employers to offer their employees a pension. The council had planned for this change and had allocated money for this cost over a number of previous years.”
Additionally, the council agreed in December to appoint an assistant clerk for a few hours a week after Ms Walsh’s hours were reduced by a fifth in 2012. “Despite the reduction in paid hours, the actual workload had increased significantly,” she said.
This secondary appointment was one that all 12 parish councillors voted in favour of, including the four Henley Independents, she pointed out.
However, some residents have been shocked to hear that a parish council that oversees just 3,000 residents requires that much administration.
David Shaw, 65, has only lived in Henley for three years since moving from Leamington.
Never concerned with local politics before, he thinks parish clerks should be able to operate from home to cut down on costs. “I don’t see why they should maintain an office,” he said.
Henley Parish Council spent £6,580 in 2012-13 for its office in Forward House, High Street. “You don’t have to pay for an office and charge it to the parishioners, it is mad,” said Mr Shaw.
Cllr Les Goodman, chairman of the council’s finance committee, drew up the draft budget for 2014-15.
He said: “Nothing has been agreed, it is purely in draft form. Until the full budget is agreed then there is nothing for me to say.”
Tonight's meeting, which is open to the public, takes place at 7.15pm at the Baptist Church Hall, in High Street.
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