Fees and Charges Scrutiny Review
We decided to review this topic following questions from Councillors about the rationale for setting fees and charges for the financial year 2011/12. Commission Members questioned the variety of changes that were proposed across a number of services. This ranged from small decreases in line with inflation, to others increases of 150%. For example, within 'street markets' there were variations between 0% and 150% with significant differences in the changes to charges depending on days of the week and type of stall. While rationale could be provided for the individual changes, it wasn't clear how decisions were made on this topic across the authority, nor what principles were applied in doing so.
In gathering its evidence for this review the Commission consulted three key stakeholders.
- local business representatives with an interest in the review, and who were able to provide insightful, practical examples of the affect that changes to charging can have on the local economy.
- a senior research manager from the Audit Commission who had led the work which resulted in the national study report "Positively Charged". This work examined the contribution made by charging to council finances, and how decisions on charging can support other strategic objectives for local government.
- in-depth discussions with the Lead Member for Finance and the Corporate Director of Finance and resources to clarify approaches taken to date, to explore ideas for improving the approach to setting and amending fees and charges in future, and how that can best be communicated to citizens.
The Commission's findings present a set of principles which it recommends to form part of future budget guidance. Budget holders will be expected to adhere to these principles in future when introducing new, controllable fees and charges, and revising those that exist already. The Commission also recommends a more consistent approach to engaging service users and taxpayers in decisions about the level at which fees and charges should be set.
We are grateful to all those who took part in the review, particularly those local residents and business representatives who took the time to contact the Commission and contribute their thoughts and concerns to our work.
The Commission's Final Report
The Commission made 3 key recommendations. These focused on the principles that should be used when setting or amending fees and charges.
Response from the Cabinet Member
Cllr Lloyd (Cabinet Member for Finance) responded to the recommendations, noting that "it is important to demonstrate to local residents and businesses that pay for Council services that the process of determining fee levels is both transparent and robust. Given the sheer number of fees and charges that the Council has to administer, this is a complex task and I welcome the Governance and Resources Scrutiny Commission's review into this matter.". All three recommendations were accepted.
Page updated: 8 Mar 2013