19 June 2009

Every picture tells a story

A couple of months ago, Muck&Brass visited the Tin Dunny and asked the Town Clerk if the Town Council was able to supply some information. Muck&Brass wanted to obtain the figures for Somerton's Precept going back as far as possible. The Town Clerk explained that the information wasn't available (no surprise there) and that he (the Responsible Financial Officer) had never collected that data.

Knowing that all sorts of obstructions would be placed in the way of a formal enquiry, Muck&Brass dropped the matter until the 4th of June when Muck&Brass made a Freedom of Information enquiry requesting the information. But this request wasn't made to Somerton Town Council, it was made to South Somerset District Council. SSDC responded with a courtesy phone call to discuss the details of the enquiry and yesterday, 8 working days after placing the enquiry, the information arrived electronically in spreadsheet form. (It's worth noting that no charges were imposed upon this enquiry and SSDC couldn't have been more helpful.) A picture is worth a thousand words and the information is reproduced below as a graph.

If you click on the graph it will open in a larger version which will make the information clearer but the graph paints a very interesting picture. For clarity, the lower (green) line shows where the Precept would be if the Town Council had increased it by 5% per annum from 1992. In 1992/93, Somerton's Precept was £30,300 which, today, would only just cover the Town Clerk's salary. Had that figure been increased by 5% per annum then, today, the Precept would be £69,448 but that didn't happen. Instead, and starting in 1999/2000, the Precept sets off in a seriously upward curve (the blue line) which only flattens out in 2005/06. The difference between the money that would have been collected had the Precept risen by 5% per annum and the actual figures looks to be just shy of £1,100,000.00.

Looking at this information, the rate-payer would be justified in asking exactly what Somerton has received in return for this huge hike in Precept. Looking at the current accounts of the Town Council, the rate-payer is receiving a huge increase in non-productive bureaucracy with administrative overheads spiraling. At the same time, there seems to have been a great interest in construction work in the last 10 years but there has been no significant expenditure on community driven initiatives. The Town Council has never given more than 3% of Precept to community groups to enable their activities and the figure is usually around 1%.

Muck&Brass now hears suggestions that the Tin Dunny is costing around £1,000 per week, whether it is used on not. So the rate-payers of Somerton can look forward to further hikes in the Precept to cover that overhead.

The next piece of research will be to consider the membership of Somerton Town Council across this same period. That may show which councillors have driven this massive increase in Precept and it may also indicate which councillors, if any, have benefited from it.

Till next time, may your God go with you.