Information for residents about the precept increase 2024/25

A lot has been achieved for residents of the Parish in the 2023/24 financial year and the Parish Council is pleased to be able to look back on some real positives:

  • A major project to refurbish the playparks throughout the Parish to provide exciting play opportunities for our young people and reduce future maintenance costs. Many value added elements were achieved as part of this project such as new fencing and benches. The loan monies were only drawn down as needed as interest rates were declining to keep costs down as much as possible.
  • Major repairs have been undertaken to the Memorial Centre
  • At short notice a beautiful Christmas tree was installed and lots of residents enjoyed mulled wine and mince pies as the lights were switched on. This was an unplanned cost but one which the Council was pleased to take on.
  • Despite vandalism, the public toilets have remained open throughout the year.

Local Residents pay a proportion of their Council Tax to Wiltshire which is then passed back to the Parish Council. This proportion is called the precept and is set by the Parish Council to manage local services.

Councillors have wrestled with difficult decisions over several meetings held on 27th November 2023, 11th December 2023 and the 8th January 2024 all in public and with several budget options. After a great deal of deliberation, Downton Parish Council has reluctantly found it necessary to increase the precept, all the time considering the impact on residents whilst also maintaining financial responsibility. The precept budget has increased by £55,450 (from £151,000 to £206,450). This is an increase of £3.33 per month for the average household. This still compares favourably with precepts charged to the residents of other town and parish councils in Wiltshire, for example Wilton’s residents pay £10 per year more and Mere residents pay £12 per year more each with comparable circumstances. Here’s where the money is being spent:

  • £20,817 (38% of the increase)  Loan repayments for the three Play Park refurbishments which resulted from agreement by public consultation.
    • Equipment in all three play areas had reached ‘end of life’ resulting in increased and unviable maintenance costs to repair. The result has been a more inclusive and modern range of interesting play equipment to meet the expectations of children/youths of today and generations to come. As part of the work, the contractor has provided several ‘added value’ items such as new fencing and benches without extra charge.
    • Over hundred children demonstrated their enjoyment of the new equipment at the Grand Opening of the Memorial Grounds playpark.
    • The upcoming opening of the Moot Lane playpark will include demonstrations of equipment designed for both young and older children. Opportunities for older children in Downton have been limited and it is hoped that the exciting equipment will divert some of the energies of our children into enjoyable and healthy activities – a real investment in our children and youth.
  • £3,000  Increase in annual insurance premium.
    • Despite a fixed term agreement, the insurer imposed a £2,000 increase this year. We’ve built in a further contingency for an increase at renewal. This is because rising inflation levels have led to growing costs for insurers and is a problem that will be experienced by all Councils.
  • £4,100.14  The Parish Council is committed to delivering services and not making cuts but there has been a significant increase in cost to deliver public services.
    • Services such as grounds Maintenance, Bin emptying (increased by 29.6%), grass cutting (increased by 8.7%) and Cleaning Public Toilets. General rises are due to a 6.5% rise in consumer prices index. This is the nationally applied rate for the delivery of services and includes staff wages, fuel, and materials. In addition, the cost of electricity for the public toilets has doubled.
    • The cost of maintaining building and street furniture assets owned by the Parish has been impacted by the age of these assets and the subsequent deterioration, for example the potentially life saving provision of defibrillators has required new and expensive batteries. Cost of living increases are reflected in repairs and maintenance charges.
  • £5,000  Cemetery Refurb Project Phase 2
    • The Parish Council owns the cemetery in Barford Lane and believes in the importance of respecting the site as a place of remembrance and reflection. Work already planned for the current year will be further improved with a project to landscape some areas and involve all generations in planting new trees and bulbs.
  • £1,000  Community Xmas Tree
    • Due to the overwhelming success of the 2023 event, the Parish Council has committed to budget for holding this event in 2024.
  • £5,532.86  Staff Remuneration
    • Staff costs in 2023/24 increased due to additional workload beyond the Council’s control. It is unlikely that this workload will reduce in the next financial year. In addition, nationally negotiated pay rises require a further 5% to be added to the 2024/25 year. Last year’s 5% rise was not in the 2023/24 budget so, in total, more than one year’s increase is included this year, making a rise of £5,532.86. Running a forward thinking, modern Parish Council requires high calibre staff to meet the current demands of local service provision. There is a national shortage of people with the right skills, and it is important for the Council to address this to attract and retain such highly skilled staff.
  • £16,000  Financial security
    • The Parish Council has to hold reserves to run the Council in the event of unforeseen circumstances. In 2023/24 the Parish Council kept the increase to just under 10% but the reserve has been drawn on over the last year and has to be replaced. Setting our reserves is influenced by national guidance issued in the Joint Panel on Accounts and Governance’s Practitioners Guide to Proper Practices. With consideration of the Parish Council’s General Reserves Policy, which states that we must have enough reserve to run 3 months of Council services and, because we have necessarily higher outgoing costs this year, we have strengthened our financial resilience by increasing our unrestricted reserves.

These additional costs make a total of over £56,881. The Council has made savings where possible and we have reduced our budgets for administrative and IT costs, reduced the planned cemetery refurbishment project and have been able to reduce the budget for playground repairs resulting in the total £55,400 increase.

The following Accounting Statement summarises the Parish Council’s 2024/25 budget (income and expenditure) in the recognised form which is used when reporting and publishing annual accounts for audit purposes: Budget 2024/25 Accounting Statement

The coming year will see the Parish Council continuing to manage local service provision, involvement in local planning and community activities and groups, youth engagement and support for local leisure provision, an improved cemetery environment, encouraging use of new play facilities, working with the police and, of course, an even better Christmas tree celebration.

Even more could be achieved if the Council had its full contingent of Councillors (we have only eight out of the allocation of fifteen) so if you would like to be part of local decision making and community provision, including deciding on how the budget is set, then please do contact us.

Parish Councils are not required to hold a referendum on increases to the precept and are not limited as to the size of the increase. Downton’s annual turnover is significantly in excess of £25,000 which means that specific detailed expenditure publication is not required beyond certain recommendations, with which Downton generally complies.