Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead Community Governance Review Working Group Tuesday 1 December 2020, 3pm, Microsoft Teams Meeting
Present: Councillors Shelim (Chairman), Cannon (Vice Chairman), Davies, Knowles and Story
Officers: Suzanne Martin (Electoral & Information Governance Services Manager), Karen Shepherd (Head of Governance), Andrew Vallance (Head of Finance).
Councillor Shelim welcomed all to the meeting.
Apologies for Absence
Update on parish budget / finance
Andrew Vallance, Head of Finance, explained that Windsor and Maidenhead towns were unparished area so residents paid an additional precept for various services provided in the area that would otherwise be provided by a parish or town council. A Windsor Town Council would provide those services itself so instead of paying £34.31 additional (Band D) council tax to the borough, residents would pay a council tax element to the Windsor Town Council instead. It was likely that this amount would be considerably more than currently paid, because of the costs of a town council that currently did not exist, for example building costs (rates, rent, overheads), administration (a town clerk £30-50k, plus other staff e.g. finance, services), and any ceremonial costs.
Members were provided with comparative precept costs for a number of other Berkshire town councils:
- Wokingham - £57
- Bracknell - £88
- Sandhurst - £75
- Earley - £81
- Woodley - £112
- Newbury - £86
Andrew Vallance agreed to provide Members with confirmation of the total amount of council tax (circa £1.2m) collected in the Windsor and Maidenhead areas and the split between the two areas.
Councillor Knowles commented that in the examples given above, there was not necessarily a commonality of powers and delivery. Andrew Vallance agreed; the examples represented a range. However, even if a Windsor Town Council only dealt with the existing elements covered by the £34.31 currently paid, the precept was likely to be £70-£80 because of the additional running costs. The key issue was the scale of services taken on and that the precept was then set by the parish or town council itself.
Councillor Knowles commented that there had been a lot of discussion about the timing of the establishment of a new council. In any case, those elected in the first year would not be in a position to take a budget forward or set a precept until year two. Andrew Vallance agreed that this was the case, unless some sort of shadow arrangement was put in place. Councillor Knowles commented that those involved in a shadow town council would not have any democratic mandate and would not necessarily be those subsequently elected to the seats.
Members noted that parish and town councils were not currently subject to referendum limits; they had complete freedom over precept levels. This was not set in stone, as the government could restrict them but it had so far not chosen to do so. Town and parish councils over a certain size were required to publish a simplified budget as part of the council tax process.
Councillor Davies commented that there was a high proportion of properties in Windsor above Band D. Andrew Vallance explained that this could mean it would have a lower precept. Wokingham was likely to have a similar level of E/F/G properties so was the most comparable at £57.48.
Members noted that the areas covered by the current £34.31 charge, as detailed in the 20/21 budget papers were:
- Street and footway lighting
- Recreation grounds and open spaces
Andrew Vallance explained that if a town council was established and the relevant services were therefore not being provided by the borough, the borough’s costs should come down. However, there would also be a subsequent reduction in income from council tax. There would also be the possibility of a transfer of assets, such as parks and allotments. This needed to be carefully considered though as anything that was not a direct asset for the people of Windsor would be owned by all council tax payers in the borough (e.g. the Guildhall).
Councillor Davies commented that the allotments in the area were run for the council by the Windsor Allotment and Home Gardens Association, which had a large volunteer base. Members noted that allotments represented a small part of the overall budget, perhaps 1%. Street and footway lighting represented 25% and parks 75 %.
Councillor Cannon explained that he was Chairman of Datchet Parish Council, which was much smaller than the potential town council. Datchet had four members of staff (not all full time) plus a building. He commented that if a town council was established, it could really only start with the services currently covered by the borough; there would then be a negotiation with the borough on what other services it could take on, and the precept adjusted as necessary. The infrastructure of a town council would have to be paid for by the tax payer on top of the £34.31 paid now. The borough would need to set the precept for year 1.
Councillor Story commented that the likely increase in costs to the resident would need to be covered in the consultation, to see if there was an appetite for an independent town council, even if costs were higher.
Councillor Knowles commented that Windsor had generated £269,000 of CIL funding and £291,000 of S106 since inception. The amount was notoriously difficult to forecast going forward but he asked if all CIL/S106 in the area would be allocated to the Town Council? Andrew Vallance confirmed that this would be unlikely as in parished areas it was split between parishes and the borough. Councillor Cannon commented that parishes got a small proportion as they had a voice in the planning process.
It was noted that the Windsor Town Council Steering Group had suggested the idea of a guild to offset some of ceremonial costs.
Members requested that Andrew Vallance provide details of the likely level of CIL/S106 that a town council would receive. Andrew Vallance responded that it would likely be small and allocated to recreation (if the town council only had three areas of responsibility, it would only receive money related to those three areas). Councillor Cannon commented that in his experience in Datchet, funding had only been received for parks and play parks.
It was noted that the borough was trying to apply most S106/CIL to highway schemes to avoid the need for borrowing.
Councillor/elector representation discussion
Suzanne Martin referred to statistics circulated to Members the previous week. Each parish was broken down at ward level based on the electorate as at 1 September 2020. The total number of people represented by a parish council was 51,381. There were 164 parish seats; on average this equated to 313 electors per parish councillor. The information also showed variations from the average of 1.34 % (Sunningdale), 1.47% (Bray) and 1.9% (Sunninghill and South Ascot).
Members had also received information from NALC and the Ashton Business School. For an electorate of 22,000, the number of parish councillors would be between 25-31 councillors. Councillor Cannon commented such a large number could be unwieldy, which was an argument for having two councils. However, this would increase the costs further as two clerks would be needed.
Suzanne Martin confirmed that the only legislative requirement was a minimum of 7 parish councillors.
There was no maximum and nothing to stop deviation from the borough average.
Councillor Cannon highlighted the need to look at communities, for example the Boltons, Dedworth, and Clewer, to ensure local representation. He suggested looking at how many wards would be appropriate, and the sizes of those wards before working how many parish councillors would then be needed.
Councillor Knowles commented that the idea of putting wards in was to ensure representation was spread across the area. Research from the Windsor Society showed that up to 1945 parochial church boundaries were used. The building splurge of 1945-55 meant these were changed and extensions added. Historically the old ones were the Windsor town centre ones that existed until the last boundary review – e.g. Dedworth, Clewer, Spital, Ward Royal, and Arthur Road/Alma Road.
Suzanne Martin confirmed that to stand for election as a parish councillor, at least one of four criteria had to be met. In addition, for parish elections, candidates must reside within 3 miles of the parish boundary within the past 12 months. If someone owned a business in central Windsor and there was a central Windsor ward, there was nothing to stop them standing in another ward.
Councillor Knowles suggested an initial map based on areas should be created, which would then be checked then to ensure a balance of representation (population density).
Members noted that wards had to be based on the current polling districts. She agreed to send Members the most up to date statistics for the current poling districts based on the 1 December 2020 electoral register. This would be statistical information only as Members were not allowed access to personal details in wards other than their own. The number of electors per street could also be extracted but this would take a bit longer.
Members agreed to bring forward suggestions for community identities to the next meeting. Officers could advise on the process and provide data but needed Members to use their knowledge of the area, combined with consideration of the consultation responses, to put forward proposals. Members were reminded that a map showing polling districts was included in the terms of reference. It was also possible to use the neighbourhood mapping system on the council website.
Councillor Shelim commented that on St Leonard’s Hill some houses at the end were in Bray Parish Council. Suzanne Martin confirmed that the polling station for Dedworth ward of Bray Parish was in a Clewer and Dedworth West polling station.
It was noted that for the second round of the consultation, more than one option could be proposed however each option would need to be specific in detail, and too many options could be confusing for respondents.
Councillor Davies highlighted the need to refer back to the consultation responses to ensure a defensible position. The consultation responses were overwhelmingly for one town council covering the entire area.
Update on consultation strategy
Councillor Story commented that the minutes of a previous meeting correctly referred to the Head of Law expressing no concerns that only 69 responses had been received to the first round of consultation.
However, he felt that the Head of Law should be asked to provide a formal written response. Attendees at the Town Forum had raised questions over the response rate. Suzanne Martin confirmed that the Local Government Public Involvement in Health Act, the legislation on Community Governance Reviews, was not very detailed on how a consultation should take place, The legislation only stipulated that the principal council had to consult directly with local government electors in the review area and anyone else they deemed to have a vested interest in the review. . As Members had previously agreed, the second round of consultation would be sent to all residents in the area via the council tax leaflet.
It was noted that at the recent Windsor Town Forum meeting, comments had been made that the Working Group had only considered one other CGR, which had not resulted in the creation of a parish or town council. Suzanne Martin explained that Medway had been provided as an example as it was unusual for a CGR process not to lead to the creation of a parish council and to point out to Members that the end result of a CGR was not necessarily pre-determined for change. In addition, this local authority had decided to issue a leaflet to households as part of their consultation and this was brought to Members’ attention as a way in which an RBWM consultation could be modelled. However, the results of other CGRs were available on the internet. She agreed to send Members links to a number of other examples.
It was noted that the redacted (personal information) consultation responses were all now available on the council website, in categories. All those who engaged in the first round of consultation had received an acknowledgement for taking part and had been added to the consultation database for the second round.
Other topics members would like to focus on for next meeting
Members agreed that a decision on potential wards would be the key priority. It would also be important to decide if more than one option was to be put forward in the second round of consultation.
The financial implications would follow from the options, for example one or two sets of overheads. Once Members had agreed on options, further information would be requested of Andrew Vallance to estimate overhead costs.
Date of next meeting
Members agreed that the next meeting should take place on Friday 18 December at 1pm.
The meeting, which began at 3.00pm, finished at 4.31pm.