It’s a while since I’ve written about life in the Council. Last month, we had two meetings of Full Council to determine the budget for the financial year 2019 to 2020 and, as a result, my Revenues and Benefits Team are now working hard to prepare Council Tax bills to be sent out soon.
The information we send out with Council Tax bills is interesting because it shows very clearly where the money you pay in Council Tax ends up. Rochford Council collects your money and then distributes most of it to the organisations listed on your bill i.e. Essex County Council, the Essex Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner, etc. For a Band D property in 2019/20 we will collect on average £1,814.82 (depending on which town/parish area you live in) and of that total Rochford Council will keep £230.31.
This brings me to the main theme of this blog. I’m aware that residents frequently ask my officers questions about many local government issues and while we will always do our best to help, if Rochford Council is not the authority responsible for providing the relevant information you need to answer your question, we’ll let you know. Some people allege that we’re not being helpful or that we’re ‘passing the buck’. Really, that is simply not the case. There are matters that we’re not responsible for such as road maintenance or police provision and so it is right and proper that officers direct you to the organisation who can help you.
I’m passionate about ensuring Rochford Council deals well with all matters that fall within our responsibility. That includes collecting your refuse, looking after our country park, dealing with planning applications, and providing temporary accommodation for homeless families. We don’t always get it right, but we’ll be clear where that is not the case and let you know how we’ll resolve an issue or problem. I should also add that Rochford’s elected Members will listen to your concerns and act as a conduit between you and the responsible authority.
Back to the budget. I know the budget is complicated and the twists and turns of public finances are not easy to understand. I’m often asked about the difference between revenue and capital budgets and these are often confused. The revenue budget is funded from income received from Council Tax, Business Rates and some other sources. This budget deals with the Council’s day to day spending requirements, including salaries and building maintenance.
The capital budget is for ‘one-off’ expenditure that will provide benefit to residents over more than one year e.g. play equipment. If there is a requirement for maintenance at a play space, this money will come from the revenue budget. If play equipment is to be replaced the money will come from the capital budget. So the capital budget is used to purchase or improve assets. The capital budget can be topped-up by transferring money from the revenue budget, receipts from selling assets, loans or special grants from government. However, capital funds can’t be used for ongoing payments such as salaries.
From time to time, a resident will say to me that Rochford Council seems to have lots of money in the bank; and that being the case, surely, we can employ more staff and pay for those staff by using that cash? Well, the Council is legally required to set a balanced budget and for the Council to be able to do that our income must balance our expenditure, and using our reserves for ongoing daily expenditure is simply not a financially sustainable option.
It’s also the case that the majority of the Council’s reserves are not just cash in the bank. The reserves are earmarked for particular projects – the replacement of play equipment is a good example. We’re also required to have enough reserves to cover for contingencies and emergency situations, to ensure the Council remains financially robust.
As ever, I’m keen to hear your views on the way the Council is working for you, so please get in touch.