Dear Spitalfields Forum,
Can you tell me have any studies been done into the sustainability and the feasibility of a town council?
What will happen to the forum if there is a new town council?
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Please let me know what precisely you mean by sustainability and feasibility in the context of a local council.
It is anticipated that the principal work of the forum (to draft a neighbourhood plan) would be fully completed by the time a town council was set up. The town council would then ensure the plan, presuming it was approved, was adhered to.
Spitalfields Neighbourhood Planning Forum
Dear Spitalfields Forum,
I meant the economics and recruiting enough people to run the town council.
Thank you for your email.
The economic aspects of the town council are fairly straight forward.
A local council (a town or parish) has almost no statutory duties. The only things it is potentially responsible for are (a) dog fouling of public open space, (b) public burials, (c) allotments. In all these instances the Spitalfields Neighbourhood Area (which is broadly the same area as that under consideration to become a local council area) is exempt. There is no publicly owned land available for allotments, there are no active burial grounds and the issue of dog fouling is not a problem. A local council can choose exercise a wide range of statutory powers - if it wants to. But these are not duties.
The only expense which the local council must have funds to cover is the employ of a town clerk. This town clerk must be suitable qualified and certified and would take direction from Spitalfields Town Council. A town clerk would:
- ensure that the council conducts its business lawfully
- administer all the council's paperwork
- ensure that meeting papers are properly prepared
- ensure that and the public is aware of meeting times
- publish the agendas and minutes in accordance with legislation
- implement the council's decisions
- oversee the implementation of projects
- supervise staff (if any)
- keep property registers and other legal documents
The implementation of council projects is the key bonus of the town clerk - if the town council wanted to oppose a development or the granting of a license it could direct the town clerk to complete the paperwork and gather the evidence needed. It would then make representations to LBTH on behalf of the people of Spitalfields. Currently, this onerous task is left to a small band of volunteers, it does not have democratic accountability, and is of great detriment to their health and sanity.
The average salary for a town clerk in the UK is £33k. We acknowledge there would be a need for London weighting regarding this wage - but this is a helpful guide. The town council would only need one employee- the town clerk - as a legal minimum. All the other people employed by LBTH who presently do various things in Spitalfields would remain employed by LBTH. As I said, the town council has no statutory duties (other than those three inapplicable ones I mentioned) and may elect to take on extra jobs, but has no duty to do so. Street cleaning, etc., would remain the full legal and fiscal responsibility of LBTH. We could use powers under the Localism Act (2011) to bid to run certain services such as this, if we thought we could do it better, and in these instances the money currently apportioned for this by LBTH would be handed over by LBTH to the town council and they would direct the use this money to run that service themselves. The local government ombudsman would ensure this was done properly.
Where would the town's independent income derive?
We anticipate two main sources of income.
The first would be the raising of a local council "precept". The average precept in local council areas is £50 per year. We have around 2,000 council tax payees in the neighbourhood area and if these households each paid an additional £50 per year then this would raise £100k. Once the town clerk was paid there would therefore be around £60k left over for other initiatives which the town council found, such as the maintenance of public toilets or a local museum or visitor centre or improved street furniture or the management and maintenance of Christ Church Gardens, etc. Alternately the town council might decide to keep the precept at the lowest possible level so that only the employ of the town clerk was covered.
The second would be what is called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). In 2017/2018 it is estimated that around £500,000 of this money would be raised in our proposed town council area. CIL is payable by developers to the local planning authority at various rates depending on what they are building. If a local council exists they are eligible for 13% of this money directly. If a local council exists that has a neighbourhood plan they receive 25% of this money directly - this would mean around £125k would be available for the town council to spend on civic amenity infrastructure projects and activities only within the immediate area affected by those developments; in Spitalfields itself. This would be of great advantage to the people who live closest to the city fringe and are impacted by those developments the most.
The town council may also raise income in other ways - for example it could sell things.
In short, the existence of the town council would mean more money being spent in Spitalfields and this would benefit the local people. It would also give enhanced democratic oversight to this spending by significantly increased representation of the people who actually live here. At the moment there is one borough councillor for every 6000 electors - under a town council it is likely to be about one town councillor (with no money given for expenses) for every 500 electors. This would substantially improve democratic accountability.
For the record, the neighbourhood forum is not running the town council campaign. The town council campaign is an independent group of campaigners - however many of those campaigners, including myself, are involved with the neighbourhood forum. The neighbourhood forum is not, as far as I know, required to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act because we are not a public body. Freedom of Information requests about the Spitalfields Neighbourhood Planning Forum must be sent to LBTH who are the public body required to answer on our behalf. But we are happy to answer your questions directly on a voluntary basis.