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Thatcham residents 'overcharged' by £60k for local services

Lib Dem says that unnecessary increase has created a 'thumping great surplus'

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THATCHAM’S Lib Dem councillors have accused their Conservative rivals of making residents pay too much council tax.

However, the Conservatives hit back by saying a 9.5-per-cent precept rise last year was prudent planning.

The town council increased its precept in preparation for taking on additional services from West Berkshire Council.

These included the Henwick Worthy sports ground and the town’s public toilets.

But town councillors heard at a meeting last week that the Henwick transfer was highly unlikely to be completed this financial year. 

As a result, the town council is predicting an underspend of £54,471.

Discussing the town council’s finances, Dominic Boeck (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said that things looked “pretty much on track”.

But Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Cole (Thatcham North) said he couldn’t agree. 

“This council put the precept up by nearly 10 per cent at the beginning of the financial year, despite the fact that we had no expenditure committed,” he said.

“We are now in a situation where we have overcharged our council tax payers by £60,000 on something that may or may not have taken place, which doesn’t seem sensible.

“We now have a thumping great surplus because we have put the precept up.

“I find it a disappointment that we took the decision.” 

Deputy leader of the town council Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) defended the “prudent” move. 

He said: “This is all part of a general scheme of planning and looking ahead. Under the devolution scheme of government we are expected to take on more. 

“We are planning ahead instead of just responding when something happens or we are asked to take on a particular service.”  

Mr Cole said that he had no objection to planning ahead, but argued that the 9.5 per cent increase was too drastic a move.

“We were planning for success,” Mr Boeck’s replied.   

The town council took over the running of Thatcham’s public toilets from West Berkshire Council in 2015.

It also agreed to pay £24,480 towards keeping the town library open following the district council’s sweeping cuts to public services last year. 

Along with Henwick, the town council is looking at taking over ownership of play areas in the town and is also in negotiations to take the Moorside Centre off the district council’s hands.  

Councillors heard that the town council had been smacked with a hefty bill for the public toilets following a forced switch from Thames Water to Castle Water.

Elsewhere, the Frank Hutchings Community Hall is projecting a surplus for the first time in recent years. 

And charging non-commercial organisations at events also boosted income.  

However, the delayed leasing of the Priory to mental health charity Response means that the £35,000 rental will fall short.

Mr Crumly said: “I would like to see when we are going to break even. There’s a series of loans to pay off. There’s a time when it will become an asset rather than a liability.” 

The town council will debate whether to draw down money from the Public Works Loan Board to repay a loan from West Berkshire Council at a meeting on Monday. 

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