Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council is facing criticism after its latest accounts showed it failing to spend significant amounts of its budgeted funds for a third year running.
Out of £1.9m budgeted for spending on local services in the year 2018/19, the council only spent £1.2m, leaving over a third of the precept — money collected from additional tax on residents — unspent.
The figures come a year after Birmingham Eastside revealed that the council had failed to spend even half of the money it planned to in its first two years.
3 years on: Sutton Coldfield Town Council
Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council (RSCTC) was formed in 2016 after residents of Sutton Coldfield voted to have a local parish council.
The body was formed to work alongside Birmingham City Council (BCC) in delivering additional services and improvements to the town.
These services are funded by the precept, an additional tax (£49.96 per year for Band D households) levied on each household in addition to Birmingham City Council’s council tax.
In the first two years of its existence the council fell short of budgeted spending by £1.1m and £1.3m respectively.
Almost half of the precept “sitting in the bank”
During the 2018 annual town meeting, Cllr Simon Ward (Con) said: “Council expenditure has increased from £12.80 per household in 2016/17 to an estimated £19.55 per household in the current year.”
However, less than two thirds of the money allocated to specific budgets was spent, with some budgets — including planning and highways, and play and recreation — going significantly unused.
The lack of spending was criticised by Birmingham City Council Labour councillor Rob Pocock (Sutton Vesey) in a tweet ahead of the publication of the town council’s accounts.
Sutton Coldfield councillor Clare Horrocks (Conservatives, Four Oaks) responded to the tweet claiming that £1.9m of the unspent £2.6m was either needed to be kept as reserves, or allocated to projects “that [Birmingham City Council] aren’t progressing.”
“It takes time to build a strategic vision, to build relationships, to integrate processes and procedures and regulatory checks into officers day to day tasks.”Cllr Clare Horrocks
Play and recreation: only 4% of the budget spent
The most significant shortfall in public spending was in ‘play and recreation’. Despite the issue being an overall high priority to residents according to a survey conducted by the council, only 4 per cent of the budget was spent.
In the 2018 Annual Town Meeting (ATM), Cllr Charlotte Hodivala (Con), chair of the Amenities, Leisure & Community Services Committee, said in a report that £75k worth of improvements “are being made” on improving playgrounds and recreation. This included:
- “New play equipment and safety surface at Calder Drive playing fields
- “A new toddler multi-play unit at Princess Alice public space
- “New equipment at Withy Hill recreation ground
- “Interactive play area at Mere Green Community Centre sensory play area
- “An allocation of £30,000 to improve Rectory Park
- “A budget of £50,000 for Park Enhancements during the current financial year as part of making our town healthier and happier.”
However, this year’s annual return reveals that only £9k was spent out of a £200k budget since last year’s ATM.
Birmingham City Council accused of ‘standing in the way’
Several councillors for Sutton Coldfield say that Birmingham City Council are holding up some of the spending of the precept because they own the infrastructure in Sutton Coldfield, meaning that some planned projects cannot go ahead until the local authority give permission.
Cllr Clare Horrocks (Con) said:
“Our request for baseline information on parking enforcement around schools… was unable to be provided and subsequently an additional investment the Town Council was trying to make was blocked.
“Secondly, we have asked to reclaim guardianship of our local park, and our officer team & Leader have repeatedly tried to engage Birmingham [City Council] in detailed discussions about this proposal.
“Despite limited engagement on this subject now, we are yet to progress to a point of seeing any figures or costings whatsoever.”Cllr Clare Horrocks
Birmingham City Council would not directly respond to the examples given by Clare Horrocks. Instead, they provided Birmingham Eastside with the following statement:
“A great deal of progress has been made on several fronts since the formation of the Town Council, which everyone involved should be proud of.
“This includes joint work to support Sutton Coldfield Library, the submission of a bid to the Future High Streets Fund and the transfer of the Town Hall building to local control as well as positive work on war memorials, highways schemes, Wifi, In Bloom competitions and Vesey Gardens.”Birmingham City Council
Sutton Vesey Labour councillor Rob Pocock (Lab) said that RSCTC need to “bury the hatchet and see BCC as partners” in order to move forward.
Cllr Alex Yip, Conservative councillor for Birmingham City Council in the Sutton Wylde Green ward, said:
“It is frustrating that Birmingham City Council are still holding back on approval of Town Council projects – distracted as they are by their own internal failings and mismanagement.”Cllr Alex Yip, BCC
Discussions “underway” on deal
At this year’s annual town meeting Cllr Simon Ward (Con) said:
“We have continued to work on defining our relationship with Birmingham City Council. Discussions are underway on the development of a Local Charter / Devolution Deal to incorporate the transfer of responsibility for some key assets within the town and the devolved delivery of certain services to the Town Council.”Minutes from Strategy and Resources report at the ATM on 2nd May 2019.
While talks are happening between the two councils about this deal, however, there is currently no set date for its implementation.