Row as council ‘road tests’ new budget scheme

‘Dissenting’ councillors claim Neighbourhood Community Budgets plan could be expensive and undemocratic.

A ROW has erupted in Ilfracombe over a Government ‘localism’ scheme designed to allow the town to manage its own public services.

Following a bid by the town council, the Government-sponsored Neighbourhood Community Budgets scheme goes live in April, but some councillors fear privatisation and are claiming it will prove a financial black hole, inefficient and with huge staffing costs.

The town was selected by the Government as one of 10 national pilots and the idea is for a local community interest limited company known as a ‘commissioning board’ to take responsibility for a wide range of services currently administered by the county and district councils.

In principle, the board will be made up of local councillors, independent members and others from public sector partners including the police, fire and health service.

The majority of councillors voted in favour of the project and say it will enable local people to influence what happens to public services in the town and how money is spent on everything from rubbish collection to healthcare.

But there are concerns it will prove too costly, with opponents pointing to staffing costs alone leaping from an estimated �124,000 to almost �201,000 – at the expense of community grants and local projects.

Most Read

Councillors Frank Pearson, Margaret Blundell and Bob Thompson have all objected to the scheme. Mr Pearson believes the initiative is too expensive with huge staffing costs, is unaccountable and would be ‘just another way of privatising public services’.

“People in the town don’t have a clue what this is all about and how it will work, even though it has huge implications and could effectively lead to public services being privatised,” he said.

“How is it going to be democratically controlled? If we don’t like it, how are we going to get rid of these people?”

But Councillor Ron Ley, who has led the town council bid, said the majority supported the plans: “For the first time in a generation the town will be able to influence much of what is going on. That is real regeneration and the council does not intend to increase council tax to residents to accommodate this new way of working.

“The old way of councillors being elected and then believing they know best, taking reactive decisions on behalf of the town is outdated, arrogant and has poorly served our community for more than 40 years.

“Changing the way our town works, with the council being at the heart of talking to its residents regularly, giving residents a strong voice and the opportunity to influence what happens, must be a good thing.”

* CLICK on the link to the top right of this story to read much more from those for and against the new Neighbourhood Community Budgets initiative.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter