Leon Spence - A Coalville Town Council is a recipe for more tax and less democracy - but it's up to local residents to decide

Leon SpenceCoalville residents, of which I am proud to be one, will know that our political opposition with their predilection for selling snake oil are pushing the idea of a new ‘Town Council’ for Coalville.

Our town, along with Thringstone - the village where I was born - are the last two remaining parts of the Coalville ‘special expenses’ area; which at one time covered the heart of our district’s urban core.

They are the only parts of the North West Leicestershire not to have a third level of local government and despite the whipping up of residents that’s a situation I would be more than happy to remain. Let me explain.

A Coalville ‘Town Council’ would have very limited powers

Let’s be clear from the outset a Town Council, as much as others may like to profess to the contrary, has very limited powers.

Legally a town council is a parish council.

A town council doesn’t replace the services we Coalvillians receive from North West Leicestershire District Council. We would still have our waste collection provided by NWLDC; we would still have housing provided by the district council; crucially North West Leicestershire would continue to be the planning authority deciding where new developments take place.

Town councils are great at providing hanging baskets, waste bins and public events, but the big stuff? That’s for the district council and higher.

A Coalville ‘Town Council’ would cost Coalville residents more

The special expenses area benefits from the district council’s economies of scale, governance structure and our longstanding council tax freeze. That means council tax for Coalville residents is amongst the lowest in the district.

Parish councils cost taxpayers more.

The average band D council tax in Coalville this year is £222.11.

That’s lower than every other town and larger village in our area - £22 a year less than neighbouring Hugglescote; £48 less than Whitwick our nearest neighbour in the other direction.

The truth is that a Coalville Town Council would be the largest parish in the district and as a new parish operations would have to start from scratch. That would mean finding (and paying for) offices, a council chamber, vehicles and staff.

It would mean building free reserves of at least 25% of annual turnover.

And all of those things would have to be paid for only by Coalville residents. Other local people may be quite happy with that, the residents of our town certainly wouldn’t.

A Coalville ‘Town Council’ doesn’t mean there is more democracy

Most parish councillors are returned without elections simply because not enough people are willing to stand for them.

In the 2019 local elections of the 49 parish council wards up for election only 11 were contested, largely thanks to a vibrant political atmosphere in Ashby.

In Castle Donington, where average council tax is £73.77 more than in Coalville not one single councillor was elected by local people.

The one power you will have noticed that parish councillors do have in a great abundance is an unrestricted power to raise council tax.

Only parish councils don’t have to abide by capping principles. As Coalville residents do we really want self-selecting, unelected councillors with limitless council tax raising powers?

The truth is that Coalville residents may decide that in the face of all of the limitations they want a new Town Council.

But my belief is that right now they are being a sold a vision for a utopia that simply doesn’t exist.

If Coalville residents want to pay more for less then a parish council may the way forward.

But as someone who has lived in the special expense area for my whole life it’s not my idea of a brighter future.

 

Leon Spence is Deputy Chairman (Political) of North West Leicestershire Conservatives and a lifelong Coalville resident

As Conservatives we are proud to be members of a party which welcomes a wide range of opinions and encourages respectful debate. Opinion pieces published on this website are personal opinion and should not be construed as reflecting the views of North West Leicestershire Conservative Association.