What do Community Councillors Do And Why Is Their Charge Shown On Your Council Tax Bill?

copyright Lisa Baker 2021

With next week’s elections for both County and Community Councils taking place across Wales, we thought we’d take a look at the vital work community councillors undertake and the impact they can have, both on their community and in their overall contribution to your council tax bill and amenities.

What is a Community council responsible for?

As summed up by an independent review panel in 2017:

“Community and Town Councils are the grassroots level of local governance in Wales. There are over 730 Community and Town Councils throughout Wales, but not every community in Wales has one.

“Community and Town Councils are accountable to local people and have a duty to represent the interests of the different parts of the community equally. Some represent populations of fewer than 200 people, others populations of over 45,000 people.”

Unlike County Councillors, Community Councillors do not get paid and give up their time to serve their communities free of charge – although they can claim reasonable expenses such as telephone calls, stationery and so on.  The functions of a community council are set out in LGA 1972 and in other legislation. Among the services and amenities they most commonly provide are village halls, playing fields and open spaces, seats, shelters, street lighting and footpaths.  Town councils will normally appoint their own Mayor (as will a County Council), whereas community councils do not have one.  Issues like education, social care and so on are governed by your County Council, which will be responsible for decisions over a wider area.

As well as attending meetings to help make decisions affecting the community, community councillors will also support local residents, answering questions, asking them on constituents behalf and signposting residents to any relevant organisations or contacts for their particular needs.  This outreach forms a massive part of the role, and it’s often out of public sight – something to bear in mind before trolling your local councillor on social media.

Community council meetings are often more collaborative that you would expect, with all parties usually working together to deliver improvements and add value for their constituents.  You don’t have to be part of a political party to serve as a community councillor, but you do need to live within a reasonable distance of the community you hope to serve.

How do precepts impact on your council tax bills?

The council tax bill is made up of three parts, your community council charge, your County Council charge and a contribution towards the Police.

What’s the precept for my Community Council?

Here’s a table showing how different community council charges impact on the bill for a Band D Property in Bridgend County Borough in 2022:

Figures obtained from current BCBC Budget Book – you can see the figures for both this year and previous years here: https://www.bridgend.gov.uk/my-council/budget-books/

Why do precepts vary so much between community councils?

As can be seen above, there is often a big difference from one constituency to another – but it’s important to not compare apples with oranges.

From ratepayer funded overseas trips to community hall repairs, community council expenses vary widely – and so do the precepts these add to your council tax bills.  This naturally causes concerns for constituents, but something like storm damage to a village hall is likely to need urgent repairs – and if it’s bad, this can be such a big expense that one storm can literally add £££ to that council’s precept for the following year. These types of expenses are unavoidable – leaving a damaged building as it is can cause even bigger bills in the future, so where a precept has increased, it’s worth asking why.  However, other spending, such as a paid photographer for official events or buying new Christmas lights or signs for the village will depend on available funds – these expenses are usually very carefully considered,

Expenses should concur with assets, for example a community council responsible for listed buildings can incur big expenses for their upkeep, and one area may have more assets than another – therefore, comparisons are often unhelpful.   However, if you are concerned as to what your community council are spending money on, just ask!  These bodies are obliged to keep records and they are accessible to the public.  Likewise, you may not be aware of a series of repairs or maintenance that were required to community assets.

It goes without saying that not everyone will agree with decisions local councils make regarding spending, for example in one Bridgend ward, there has been much media focus on councillors set to go on their second ratepayer funded overseas trip in just over three years, however community councils are aware of the sensitivity to such issues and accountable to their communities.  As a constituent, you are able to ask questions about where community council funds have been spent, so if you are unsure, just email the Clerk and they will be happy to provide answers to your questions.

Hopefully, we’ve given you a little insight into this aspect of local Government, but if you’d like to know more, members of the public are also able to attend community council meetings, so if you want to learn more, why not attend your next one – and welcome the new members who have put themselves forward to serve your local community.