It’s slightly unusual for a council at the parish level to feature on this blog, but Dover Town Council has surpassed itself in costing the taxpayer dear and not spending wisely. In the last few months they have reached new heights of unpopularity.
The Council has listened to locals on occasion – in one recent year, they bowed to pressure and froze their council tax take, but the norm has been for above-inflation increases. Their precept – the amount the Council wishes to collect in tax revenue – was £633,150 in 2012, rising to £764,474 in 2013 and £885,977 in 2014. Public disapproval has been aroused several times over what has been both spent and not spent. They refused grants to the local carnival procession, while happily spending on regalia for the mayor and town clerk, and lavish ceremonies. Staff received above-inflation salary increases and a generous Christmas dinner bonus. Also purchased: a new car for the mayor and a 4×4 for official use – the official reason being the need to access their allotments. Two vehicles in a smallish town? No War on Waste there!
They managed to put a picture on their website purporting to be Dover’s white cliffs that turned out to be somewhere else. They made national news when, without any consultation, they put benches in the town’s main pedestrian precinct that were “deliberately designed” to be uncomfortable so as to discourage people sitting on them too long (the intended target being people with drink, though it ended up hitting everybody else just wanting a rest with their shopping). There was also a matter of franchising out a reopening public toilet on the seafront as a combined toilet and shop. This was delayed for a year by their not following correct procedure and a bid being put in by a councillor without declaring their interest. There are other issues, from the lack of a World War I ceremony to the memorial benches dedicated to loved ones were found dumped behind their offices. I could go on, but will concentrate on the matter of our money.
It has now come to light via the Dover Express that Dover Town Council reserves are quite considerable, bearing in mind the council’s size: £764,474 in 2012, £885,977 in 2013 rising to £1,148,938 in 2014. This prompted the rather blunt headline – “Town council is hoarding £1 million of your money”. It is difficult to justify why that money is being held in reserve, rather on essential services or being used to reduce people’s tax bill.
Unsurprisingly, a petition is being started calling for the abolition of the town council. Before we had a town council, after district councils were set up (replacing the old borough council) Dover had Charter Trustees. They too proved very good at spending and losing money. Something, clearly, has to change.