Budgets, reserves & precept

We've been asked by a couple of people why there was a big jump in the precept this year and where the money has gone that the council had in reserves. I hope this will explain, but if you do still have any questions, please email me (clerk@eandkpc.co.uk) and I'll try to answer them.

The Local Government Act 1972 (Sec 151) states that "every local authority shall make arrangements for the proper administration of their financial affairs..." and the Local Government Act 2000 requires Full Council to approve the council's budget and council tax demand.

As part of the budget, Councils are also required to keep a general reserve for unexpected expenditure. This is advised as between 3 and 12 months of the planned expenditure, but as we are a smaller authority with no buildings to maintain, any unplanned expenditure is likely to be much smaller. As Responsible Financial Officer for the Council, I recommended that between 3 and 6 months would be adequate for our circumstances.

In April 2015, the Council held a reserve of just over £10,000. Annual budgets were set at around £8,000, so £10,000 was too high a reserve; it should have been between £2,000 and £4,000. At the same time, the Council was only requesting a precept of between £3,000 and £4,000, around half of the budget, and one of the lowest precepts in Copeland. Naturally, the deficeit between budget and precept had to come from somewhere, so this meant that the reserve was reduced over time. Our anticipated reserve at the end of March 2022 was around £2,500.

The Council was faced with the tough decision between keeping the inevitable precept increase to a minimum and providing minimal services, or accepting that the shortfall needed to be addressed and committing to actioning some of the improvements to the village that have been requested. In addition, as this is the Queen's Platinum Jubilee year, the Council wanted to ensure that funds were available to celebrate this as a community. Ultimately the Council decided that it was better to have the increase implemented in this financial year, so that people would be able to see the benefits almost immediately, rather than dragging the process out by making what would still be large increases, incrementally over a number of years, yet offering no visible return from it.

I hope that this answers your questions and while I appreciate that increases may not be popular, I hope that you can see that this has not been done lightly. Some items on the budget are a one-off, such as the Queen's Jubilee, and once purchased, planters and benches will only require mainenance, not replacement - for a number of years at least. Because of this, there may be a reduction in next year's precept, or we may find we have sufficient funds to be able to make bigger improvements. I hope you have already seen some of the changes as plans start to take shape. Don't forget to let us know if there is something that you would like to see happen and we'll see if we can help.