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Precept increase on the cards following dismissal of Parton Parish Council Clerk

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Parton Parish Council have revealed in a cache of documents, released prior to the next meeting on January 8th 2020, that their former Clerk was sacked for Gross Misconduct in the latter part of 2019. The council is now set to vote upon a new budget and to begin the process of recruiting a new Clerk, who is expected to work around six hours per week.
  • A new Clerk to Parton Parish Council is expected to be on a salary of £3500 gross.
  • The meeting of 11th December was halted abruptly following "heckling" from members of the public who had asked questions about finance.
The councils budget report for 2020/21 reveals that the council had been "dipping into reserves" for a number of years, and that a precept increase was now required to balance the sheet. The council is now set to vote upon a precept which could add an extra £47.35 per year to Band D properties in the Parton area.

In the released budget documents, Chair of the Council (Robert Huck) said:

"Our former Clerk was employed until the end of November. In previous years the Clerk has sought approval to the precept at November Council such that I would have expected to see in the papers he returned to our Council his draft proposals for the next financial year. That has not been provided so that it may be the case that he simply never undertook that exercise once a disciplinary process was commenced in October. As result we have nothing as a basis for the budget for 2020/2021.

"From my investigation of our accounts (as has been supplied by our former clerk) Parton Parish Council appears to have been dipping into reserves for what appears to have been a number of years. That means that its precept in previous years has been insufficient to meet expenditure. An alternative view could be that the Council has simply been making financial decisions in the past without reference to the Budget to ensure that we were not “overdrawn” as it were. Whilst there is nothing wrong in using reserves in this way that should have been properly authorised by Council. Council should have been alerted to the fact that income was not meeting expenditure and that does not appear to have happened.

"In the past it appears that some money has been expended without prior approval by Council and that is clearly inappropriate. We do employ an Internal Auditor to have an overview of our financial affairs. However I have been unable to locate that individual and despite asking our former Clerk on a number of occasions for his contact details this has not been forthcoming. This is a matter of considerable concern.

"The [internal] auditor last year charged £50 however I can find no invoice for Mr FG Hoyle. The previous year his rate was increased to £150 with no council approval. No invoices can be found.

"The former Chair does not appear to have allowed the budget proposals to be disclosed in the public domain and nor did he call for a formal vote to approve the Budget (since at least 2016) as is required by law. The precept was agreed but not the budget. That was contrary to s.67 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. The Budget was never posted on the Council web site as required by the Transparency Agenda for smaller Councils such as Parton. As such finding historical data on past budgets has been impossible. The former Chair and Clerk appeared to have a tendency to secrecy on these matters.

"The Budget presented to Council is based on the issues we undertook this last year plus what we know to expect going forward and our aspirations for improvements around the village. The original draft budget I prepared (omitting any need to dip into reserves) revealed a precept of £18240.52 (£10,000 increase on this current year) and which, for Band D properties would have meant an increase of £47.35 for the year on their tax bills.

"The portents are that if we do not have a sufficient budget next year we may be precluded from having one in future years with government imposed limitations on precept levels. That could impact on the service we may wish to provide in the future. I hesitate to suggest this but there may be a "service to the public advantage" if we do go with the attached draft budget now and whether the inevitable criticism from the public. It would at least get us on to a proper footing going forward.

"What we may have here is Parton showing restraint but which may now be coming back to haunt it in later years. Get it right this year and that could assist us if there are limitations on precepts in future years."

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Cleator Moor | Cumbria: Little Ireland: Precept increase on the cards following dismissal of Parton Parish Council Clerk
Precept increase on the cards following dismissal of Parton Parish Council Clerk
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Cleator Moor | Cumbria: Little Ireland
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