Funding u-turn may not prevent Council Tax rise

Thetford news from the Bury Free Press
Thetford news from the Bury Free Press

It may be too late for Thetford Town Council to reverse a 20 per cent Council Tax increase even if Breckland Council makes a u-turn on funding.

Breckland Council leader Michael Wassell has said it was not his intention to mislead fellow councillors when a decision was taken not to pass on funding to town and parish councils, against Government policy.

Speaking to the Bury Free Press in December about the decision, Cllr Wassell said this year’s Government grant did not include an allocation for town and parish councils.

This was shown to be incorrect by a Freedom of Information request submitted by Cllr Terry Jermy, leader of Breckland Labour group, which also revealed that Minister for Local Government Brandon Lewis had written to the council in January this year asking for funding to be passed 

Cllr Wassell said: “It was an unfortunate misunderstanding for which I apologise.

“Our original decision was taken on the basis of this misunderstanding and in the light of budgetary pressures we faced as well as the fact that there is no legal obligation to transfer a proportion of the money from government to parish councils.

“Since then we have had more clarity on our support from government. As this is higher than anticipated we are now able to revisit the original decision.

“We value our relationship with our town and parish councils and have and will continue to listen to them.”

Cllr Jermy said that the decision had damaged the relationship between Breckland Coucil and the towns and parishes it encompasses.

He said: “It was awful they did not acknowledge earlier that they had made a mistake. I grant they did eventually but it should not have got to that point.

“They have upset an awful lot of people. We are all facing pressure to reduce costs and improve things – why is Breckland not talking to towns and parishes about how to do this.”

Faced with losing out on £85,000 of funding, compared to that received last year, Thetford Town Council made the decision to raise its Council Tax precept.

Town council clerk Maurice Howard said it was unlikely the decision could be reversed even if Breckland restore funding, due to budgetary time constraints.

An additional meeting of Breckland Council’s cabinet has been called for February 19 to discuss its budget.