Despite recently published grand plans for spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on refurbishing Bath’s historic Guildhall market, Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) Council might like to consider giving the hard-working traders in the market a break when it comes to charging them for council services.
A Bath supporter of the TPA reveals to me the hidden costs of making changes to a stall in the market. B&NES demand that any such alterations must involved a Listed Building Application—and that’s just for a stall! ‘Listed Building Applications are supposed to be free,’ says the local businessman. ‘The problem is you have to pay for Pre-Application advice first.’
Section 93 of the Local Government Act 2003 specifies what charges can be made for services such as this and further guidance has been provided by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in the document ‘General Power for Best Value Authorities to Charge for Discretionary Services – Guidance on the Power in the Local Government Act 2003.’
Basically, the rules are that only the actual cost of providing the service can be charged. Indeed the document says ‘Authorities are not required to charge for discretionary services. They may provide them for free if they so decide.’ However, B&NES charges an eye-watering £70.00 (plus VAT) per hour for this service.
A subsequent FoI Request has shown that B&NES raised a total of £160,000 in 2012 just for Planning Pre-application advice and they are making no attempt, as required by the Act, to show that year-on-year income from this is no greater than the cost of providing the service.
‘If they make this much from just one area,’ says our local source, ‘how much more are they making from other such rackets?’
It is yet another extra burden on Bath’s hard-pressed traders, which they can ill afford in this economic climate.