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Plans for Mayoral Precept scrapped for 2018/19

Plans for Mayoral Precept scrapped for 2018/19

🕔02.Feb 2018

The plan to fund costs of the Mayoral Office through a Precept on all Council Tax bills across the West Midlands has been abandoned for the next financial year, reports Kevin Johnson

At its last Board meeting, members of the West Midlands Combined Authority effectively voted against a proposal that would have seen £10.80 added to Council Tax bills for Band D properties.

Street loses first vote as Mayor

Since the meeting, Mr Street and his team have been in discussions with Council leaders as well as appearing at a Mayor’s Question Time with the WMCA’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Based on those discussions, the Mayor has accepted a proposal from the Leaders to scrap plans to raise a levy in 2018/19. Instead, office costs and ‘Network Resilience’ or ‘congestion busting’ measures will be funded from elsewhere.

Council leaders have told the Mayor that scrapping the Mayoral Precept would “reduce the burden on hard pressed households in the West Midlands.”

The option of a Mayoral Precept may be brought back for the 2019/2020 WMCA budget. Council leaders have stated:

The Combined Authority is minded to support a Mayoral precept in 2019 – 2020 subject to agreement on the detail of the Mayoral precept.

In Board papers published today, ahead of next Friday’s meeting, alternative means of funding the Mayoral Office and associated programmes have been identified.

Network Resilience costs that were to be funded by the Precept will now be funded through an increase in the Transport for West Midlands Levy. This is supported by the fact local authorities will return a rebate due to them from the current year budget.

A contribution from WMCA reserves is being made available to support the costs of the Mayor’s Office.

The Mayoral Office will also benefit from more funding than anticipated from the Mayoral Capacity Fund announced by the Chancellor in his Budget late last year. Similarly, more skills-related funding can be drawn down from Government than first forecast, enabling more flexibility in the WMCA’s Operational Budget.

The Mayor and Met leaders have agreed that a Precept for a contribution to the Investment Programme of £6 million can be deferred “for one year only without a material effect on the current status of WMCA’s Investment Programme.”

The Mayor has also agreed to reduce his proposed budget by £65,000 for one year.

The Mayor and local authority leaders have to come to an agreement that still delivers Mr Street the same budget, more or less, that he first submitted.

Band D Council Tax payers will be £10.88 better off than they might have been.

Council leaders, especially those representing the Labour party, have made a political point.

Welcome to politics, Mr Mayor

As the Overview and Scrutiny Committee have highlighted in their report, there are clearly lessons to learn.

The Mayor told the Committee that discussions on the Budget had taken place with council officers through October and November and ultimately with some leaders in December. The draft Budget was circulated on 20th December and no negative responses regarding the Mayoral Precept were received prior to the Board meeting.

The WMCA Board meeting, where the draft Budget was discussed and a majority of members said they were not minded to recommend the Mayoral precept, took place on 12 January. Leaders of the constituent councils only met to consider the proposals on 24 January and formally submitted their response to the Mayor on the following day.

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee has recommended that the next Budget process is brought forward to September “to allow sufficient time for open discussion and development of proposals.”

The Committee also criticised the Mayor’s Office in respect of transparency and access to papers from the Funding for Growth Programme. This group is charged with, among other tasks, advising on fiscal options available to the Mayor and WMCA for generating funds. In his “Renewal Plan” the Mayor had committed not to levying a Precept before experts had considered possible alternatives.

Street on the dash for cash

In its report to the WMCA Board, the Committee says:

The current situation where the CA Board refused to agree the proposed Mayoral Budget does not resonate with the level of partnership and collaboration required for the Combined Authority to achieve its strategic objectives.

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