Saturday, June 06, 2020

Creeting St Peter - dreaming about local government finance?

One of the personal advantages of the pandemic is that, as I’m working from home, I have rather more time to think - the eight hours or so I would usually spend commuting are mine to enjoy, for the time being. Now, I acknowledge, that isn’t necessarily an entirely good thing, because it does tend to lead me to think of things that I might do. However, given that life is usually quite hectic on Planet Bureaucrat, it is nice to have some relative downtime.

But, simultaneously, I don’t have anywhere near as many responsibilities as I might have done in the past. As part of the ongoing process of tapered withdrawal from anything other than local Liberal Democracy, my activity is more focused and less burdensome - I do things that I want to do, rather than those that other people would like me to do for them. Thus, the things that I ought to, or might, dedicate more time to are fewer.

The biggest one, or at least, the role with widest significance, is Creeting St Peter Parish Council, which I have the astonishing privilege of chairing. It isn’t an obviously onerous job, although I probably spend more time on it than I tend to suspect. And I’m moved to dwell on what it is that I, and we, do.

We are, in local government terms, well resourced relative to our activity. We have a clutch of ring-fenced funds which are intended to support various aspects of village life, and healthy levels of reserves - probably healthy enough not to require further bolstering. That said, financial management is light touch - we don’t meddle, and don’t have a philosophical stance on capital expenditure excepting that we understand that you have to spread its cost rather than simply spend as issues arise. We are, I should emphasise, highly rated by our auditors in terms of record keeping, due diligence and transparency.

So, the question is, what might we do better? That takes me back to a point that one of our councillors raised last year when we considered this year’s budget - should we maintain, increase or, whisper it quietly, reduce the precept given the health of our finances?

But you know how it is, life intervenes, and you “park” the idea at the back of your mind, fully intending to act upon the thought at some point. And then, that point never really arrives. It’s a bit like that e-mail you get that you think, “I really must read that at some point, it looks really interesting.”, and then find in a pending folder six months later, long after the information stopped being useful.

And now, I suddenly, at least theoretically, find myself with some time. So, I’ve decided to look at our ring-fenced funds, to see what we might to with or about them. There are opportunities to clarify functions, increase participation and, perhaps most importantly, do some good.

Wish me luck. I may be gone some time...

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