The so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), that Astroturf lobby group that dishonestly claims to represent the 99.9% of taxpayers who do not subscribe to it, needs to keep its expensive offices and equally expensive staff occupied, and so, in pursuit of the ever decreasing circle of supposed waste, they are now reduced to going after and demonising parish councils.
More bore from the second floor
This duty has been allocated to Chris Daniel, whose sole information source is a report from the Audit Commission [.pdf], that well known quango that the TPA wants to have wound up. But, by the happiest of coincidences, the TPA has no problem using its services in the meantime. So are we talking significant amounts of taxpayers’ money here?
Well, no we’re not: of the fourteen bodies that have not provided sufficient information to obtain an audit opinion for the past three years, four are parish meetings (that means they’re very small indeed) and the rest appear to represent very few people. The thought enters that none of these bodies has a budget even approaching £10,000 a year.
In fact, of the just under 9,500 parish councils in England, 4,097 have a budget of less than £10k, with 6,774 having a budget of less than £50k (that latter figure is around 70% of them). And the Audit Commission is happy with around 94% of those. It should be signally obvious to anyone perusing the figures that the scope for significant waste, and possibility of the same, is vanishingly small.
Where the Audit Commission is expressing concern, what it is not saying – TPA people take note – is that there is any suggestion of wrongdoing, except in the way that records are kept and information presented. Where the Commission’s opinion is qualified, it means that there has been a shortcoming in that area. It is not the amounts of money that cause the concern, but the processes and procedures.
That the TPA appears to believe that it has uncovered something significant should, however, not surprise anyone familiar with Chris Daniel’s work. This has, after all, included Trade Union funding, an area where the TPA has been creatively rewriting history to suggest that taxpayers are subsidising strikes, demonstrations and meetings when they are not.
And if I were one of those overmonied TPA backers, I might just want to see something rather more convincing than resorting to picking over whether a parish meeting somewhere in rural Lincolnshire had correctly recorded the purchase of a 80 pack of Asda Smart Price tea bags eighteen months ago, or how much a local joiner was paid to patch up the gate at the local village hall last winter.
Because that is the level we’re talking about. Not that the TPA are telling you.
Parish meetings are a statutory annual meeting dating to per-Norman times. Though often run by parish councils they belong to the parishioners. I think they're rather brilliant because they link us with so much history.
Interestingly parish councils are the only level of government that isn't capped on its spending. This hasn't escaped higher levels of local government who are all working on wizard wheezes to get poor old PCs to pay for stuff. This could all get interesting.
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