Council votes for first precept

Southwold Town Council.Matthew Horwood.

Southwold Town Council.Matthew Horwood. - Credit: Nick Butcher

It is one of the few local authorities in the country that has never charged residents its own separate council tax precept.

Southwold town sign.

Southwold town sign. - Credit: Nick Butcher

But this week Southwold Town Council took the difficult decision to ask people to pay a precept for the first time in its history – saying the current financial climate meant there was no alternative.

Historically the council –established in its current form in the 1970s – has always set its precept at zero and managed its finances through the income on its property portfolio in the popular seaside resort, which is a big tourist hotspot and one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

However with falling income from its property portfolio, the need to carry out repairs to its buildings and the need for money to deal with big community issues meant the authority was faced with a deficit of £127,408 for 2016/17.

That was reduced to £98,107 by cutting its capital reserves by 30 per cent and another part of its budget – which includes things like donations and events – by 25 per cent in a budget passed by a majority vote at Tuesday night's full council meeting.

However Matthew Horwood, chairman of the council's finance committee, said: 'We wish to maintain our services to the community and to have the financial wherewithal to be able to react when these cuts impact on our community.

'We will be expected to pick up the costs.'

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Recommending a precept that would bring in about £120,000 – about £2.20 per week for an average Band D property – Mr Horwood told the meeting: 'There will be those here for whom setting a precept is too far, whatever the amount or reasons given.

'This is a sensitive issue and the proposal has not been taken lightly. This will enable the town council to be financially secure and support projects in the town.'

The majority of councillors backed the decision, with nine voting in favour –although Michael Rowan-Robinson proposed an amendment of a lower precept at £100,000, which was not carried.

'I think it's a responsible thing to do,' Mr Rowan-Robinson said. 'It's not a case where the town is overwhelmingly against it.'

Figures from the Southwold town plan consultation in 2012 revealed that 45 per cent of people supported the idea of paying a precept, as opposed to 34 per cent of people against, with 21 per cent undecided.

However three councillors – Michael Ladd, Sue Doy and Rob Temple – voted against, with Mrs Doy saying: 'A lot of people just can't afford to pay.' Mr Ladd said he was not against a precept in principle but believed it was not necessary for 2016/17 while the council is still finalising a number of community projects.

However Mayor Melanie Tucker said: 'We do feel extremely responsible for the decisions we make for the town. We do realise it's not a popular decision for many. We have 12 different councillors but we do have to work as a team to do what's best for the town, and I think the outcome showed that.'

The precept will come into effect from April 1 this year.

What do you think of Southwold Town Council's decision to start charging a precept? Write, giving your full contact details, to: Journal Postbox, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or email andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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