Contrary to popular belief, parish/town councils have a wide range of powers – including the provision of allotments, recreation, sports and entertainment facilities, crematoria and burial grounds, tourism and information services, street furniture and car parks. Unlike most of the 8,500 or so parish and town councils in England and Wales, Rye Town Council has the General Power of Competence. It has an appropriately qualified clerk and meets the electoral mandate test of sufficient candidates to contest elections. This power enables Rye Town Council to do virtually anything it likes in the best interests of the parish.
During local government reorganisation in 1972-74, most of the assets and functions of Rye Borough Council were transferred to the newly created Rother District Council because, in law, that was the successor council. Rye Borough Council ceased to exist.
Some assets (notably the town hall) were transferred to Rye Town Council. The town council tried to provide a number of services undertaken previously by the borough council, but felt that this was placing an unfair burden on local council tax payers and so passed a number of them to Rother District Council.
It remains the case that the ability of parish/town councils to raise a precept (local council tax) is unrestricted. The amount raised by them, as a proportion of total council tax, is much lower than district and county councils, and the police and fire services. The Government has taken the view that there remains no compelling case to limit the ability of parish/towns councils to raise tax.
Including the Heritage Centre – and excluding VAT – the Rye Town Council’s estimated total income for 2015-16 is actually £280,611. This includes precept income of £108,767, which represents just under 39% of the total income. Unlike many other parish/town councils, Rye Town Council derives most of its income from sources other than council tax (the town council will be freezing council tax next year).
The appointment of a town steward in January has generated a considerable amount of positive feedback from both residents and businesses. Regardless of who forms a government this May, there is likely to be another five years of substantial grant-funding reductions for district and county councils. There are only so many efficiency savings these councils can achieve and, inevitably, services will be reduced or withdrawn.
Based on comments – and complaints! – made by parishioners over the past few years, the council took the view that the majority of parishioners would agree with them that it was unacceptable to allow the appearance of Rye to deteriorate any further. Fifty per cent of the set-up costs for the town steward are being funded by the county council.
The aspiration to provide (more) affordable accommodation to allow local families to stay in Rye remains. This may or may not involve selling Town Hall Cottage to the current tenant. A number of options need to be explored – including taking a loan with the Public Works Loan Board at a very competitive rate of interest.
The council has not voted to become a living wage employer. I have been asked to cost the impact and ascertain the implications of its implementation.
The “Spirit of Rye” millennium wall has not, since its construction, attracted the regular attention of graffiti artists. Fortunately, it has suffered minimal defacement. The town steward has improved its appearance and Southern Gas Networks will make additional repairs before it is transferred to the town council to care for, on behalf of future generations.
The decision to set aside £1,050 towards the purchase of three past mayor’s badges was actually taken in February 2014. If the mayor or deputy mayor is unable to attend a local event, it is helpful to be able to call on a former mayor to attend, wearing their past mayor’s badge.
Finally, if any reader is thinking of standing for election to Rye Town Council, they are welcome to contact me for an informal chat about what the role entails and how to go about it. As Rye Town Clerk I can be contacted on 01797 223902 or by email.
To read Cllr Smith’s article, see Council’s spending “is all wrong”.
Richard Farhall is Rye Town Clerk / Photo: Tony Nunn