Everything you need to know about the Northampton Borough Council budget
Confusing council papers sometimes make politics look more befuddling than it actually is, and this is especially true when it comes to budget time in February.
So we’ve deconstructed the council jargon to explain simply how everything that is decided by elected officials affects you. So here’s a brief rundown of the 2019/20 budgets in Northampton.
HOW MUCH ARE YOU PAYING IN COUNCIL TAX?
Let’s start at the business end. Your council tax bill is what will be of most importance to you. It’s important to remember that your overall council tax bill goes to several different organisations.
The amount you pay is determined by the price of your home. Media reports will often refer to Band D properties, and this effectively is the ‘average house’ in Northampton.
This year a Band D (average) property in Northampton will pay a total of £1,784.85.
Here’s who gets what from that sum, and in brackets is how much this year’s figures have increased by:
Northampton Borough Council = £225.84 (2.99% rise)
Northamptonshire Police & Crime Commissioner = £245.04 (10.86% rise)
Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Authority = £60.76 (2.99% rise)
Northamptonshire County Council = £1,236.10 (4.99% rise)
Parish Precepts (average) = £17.11 (1.31% rise)
The county council gets the vast majority of your council tax bill, whereas the borough council (which collects the council tax bill and distributes it out) gets much less.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM ALL?
One of the most confusing aspects is understanding which council does what. The county council looks after services such as health, social care, libraries, highways and education. Whereas the borough council looks after housing, parks, planning and rubbish collections.
Councils are only allowed to raise their council tax by a maximum of 2.99 per cent. If it wants to raise it by any more, then a referendum needs to be held for the public to vote on whether they accept it or not. However, due to its well documented financial troubles the government has allowed the county council to raise it by 4.99 per cent. This is not normally allowed.
The Police and Crime Commissioner PCC is not restricted by a cap on how much they can raise their precept by however, hence a steep increase of 10.86 per cent this year. As of January, the PCC is also responsible for the fire service, though that part of the precept is ring-fenced and shown separately on your council tax bill.
THE 2019/20 BUDGET KEY DETAILS
As with every council budget, there are two separate pots of money - revenue and capital. Revenue is what your council tax bill goes into, while capital funds are set aside for building projects and investment in infrastructure. So if the council builds a school for example, it’s not necessarily paid for by your council tax increase.
Let’s have a look at Northampton Borough Council’s budget, and the two pots of money, in more detail.
The total revenue budget totals £28.67million. Funding from this comes from council tax, business rates and fees and charges.
The fees and charges for council services include things such as paying to park in a council car park, buying an allotment plot, hiring The Guildhall for a wedding or booking a football pitch at the Racecourse.
The revenue funds also include grants from the Government, but these are getting smaller by the year. For context, in 2010 the borough council received £18.74million in government grants, but in 2019 that figure was down to just £6.72million.
So the council is having to trim its budget, but also make it balance at the same time - a legal requirement.
As a result it is proposing £1.13million of ‘savings’. This includes:
£625,000 in extra income from increased parking charges
Removing £50,000 from a ‘business incentive’ scheme
Reducing the council’s IT budget by £50,000
But there are also some things the borough council is investing in, to the tune of £970,000. This includes:
Spending £135,000 on continuing the Northampton emergency night shelter
£533,000 investment in staff (including recruiting) to tackle homelessness
There are also some other one-off investments, including an extra £1million to deal with homelessness and temporary accommodation, and £2,500 set aside for a three-month trial where the cost of using the bulky waste service will be reduced, in order to combat fly tipping.
The borough council also has to set aside money in case things go wrong. The council agrees that there should be £4million in ‘reserves’ as a minimum for its general fund. It had held £5.5million at the end of March 2018, but £1.5million of that was set aside to fund the legal costs for recovering the £10.25million Sixfields loan money.
If reserves are spent, that money is gone, and the money for the reserves next year has to be found from elsewhere such as service cuts. The county council, across the road, had this problem when it spent all its reserves recently.
This one is a little bit easier to follow. It’s effectively money that the borough council has set aside to spend on projects or assets for the financial year. The capital budget for 2019/20 is worth £52.52million.
Here are some of the investment projects the council has ringfenced capital funds for:
£2.09million funding for Upton Country Park
£4.2million for the Northampton Northwest Relief Road
£750,000 on street lighting
£200,000 on restoration works at 78 Derngate
The funds can come from various sources. They can come from capital receipts i.e the sale of council assets (the borough council did this in selling the Sekhemka statue to fund the redevelopment of the museum). It can also raise money from section 106 funds, which is effectively a payment developers have to make to the community when they build housing estates. Or the council can even borrow money for its capital projects.
This is likely to be the final budget that Northampton Borough Council makes. Next year it is set to be replaced by a unitary authority. It will effectively see Northampton merge with the district councils in Daventry and South Northamptonshire.