Below are some extracts from my letter of 7th March to Caroline Esterson – wife of Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson
I am trying to get to the bottom of how the Town Council has put itself in the invidious position of having asked Sefton Council to collect a precept figure for 2013/14 which even as I write simply does not exist and will not do so until the Full Town Council meeting on 20th March approves a budget and precept for 2013/14.
As you will be aware the Parish Councils in Sefton usually set their budgets and precepts for the following year in January or early February yet Maghull Town Council has done neither to date and only intends to do so on 20th March. However, it is very clear that someone acting on behalf of the Council (I know not whom or the date it was done) telephoned Sefton Council informing its Finance Department that the Town Council had set a precept for 2013/14 and even gave them a figure to collect from Maghull’s Council tax payers. Sefton followed that telephone call up with an e-mail requesting confirmation and a copy of the Town Council’s budget.
You will be aware that I raised this issue at Sefton Council’s budget meeting on 28th February because I knew that the information that Sefton was supplying to its councillors in its own budget report, where it referred to the Town Council, was erroneous and indeed completely without foundation. I attach a copy of a letter that Sefton’s Head of Finance circulated on 1st March referring to the matter.
The fact is that the Town Council has not set a precept and should not be trying to pretend that it has prior to actually doing so.
I also raised my concerns at last night’s Town Council Finance Committee meeting and was told at first by Cllr. McKinley, who was chairing the meeting, that a precept had been set and that such was minuted. Cllr. Blackburn pointed out that there were no minutes saying any such thing. I was then told that a ‘direction of travel’ had been agreed and that the precept was not going to increase. I am not sure what this means or who agreed to the ‘direction of travel’ but on the basis that my Group is proposing a reduction in the 2013/14 precept (tabled but not voted upon last night) it certainly is something that has not been discussed at any meeting we have been invited to.
In case there is any doubt, can I make it clear that a Parish Council budget and precept has to be agreed at a meeting of the Full Council and no one acting for the Town Council has the right to anticipate what a precept may be and ask for it to be collected without such authority.
I realise that you may well be operating with what I will call an unofficial Cabinet made up of the Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs. Could it be that this unofficial body, which has no powers what so ever within Parish Council legislation and has not been sanctioned by the Full Council, gave the instruction to report a precept to Sefton Council as the billing authority?
Whatever the circumstances that led to the Town Council acting in the way that it did I would appreciate sight of any documents or minutes where the authorisation was given, to anyone acting on behalf of the Town Council to contact Sefton Council and declare that it had set a precept. If you require a Freedom of Information request to be able to provide me with such evidential material then please make that clear.
Should no documents or minutes exist which authorise the course of action outlined above please detail for me in writing what your understanding is of the process used to declare to Sefton Council that the Town Council had set a precept.
Cllr. Tony Robertson