This panel was led by Cllr Kate Bielby and Paul Wynne.
Kate Bielby led the talk on finance, and started by noting that all local councils are in the same financial positions, and all have the desire to empower and enable their communities.
Kate then highlighted Frome Town Council’s successful financial strategies. These include raising the precept every year for the last 7/8 years to spend in the community. Employing a fundraiser to help local community groups to support themselves. Taking advantage of low interest rates and borrowing money, as the repayments have been lower than the cost of grants. Income of £7-8,000 from solar panels (on the Cheese and Grain). Crowdfunding and match funding with community groups, which also increases engagement and positively raises the profile of the council.
Paul Wynne, Town Clerk, then spoke about Fair Frome. Responding to concerns about poverty in the area, FTC provided an initial grant and three trustees to enable a self-sufficient enterprise to start providing solutions. Today Fair Frome is given £12 – 15,000 in grants from FTC, and additionally raises £50,000 in grants from elsewhere.
During question time, Paul and Kate were asked how much management and support FTC have and answered that being well funded, having a diverse staff body recruited in areas such as Health and Wellbeing, Financial Management, Marketing and Communications Management, and 10 – 12 full-time-equivalent passionate volunteer councillors who are experts in their fields.
Kate noted that sharing information with your community can be really helpful. For example, letting voters know that Council Tax is the only tax guaranteed to be raised and spent in the town, engages people and generally builds trust.
Other questions included:
What legal limitations do you have on how you raise and spend money?
If council goes down power of general competence, you can do anything, as long as it’s legal.
Taking on services from County Councils, do you need to be a certain size?
Depends on the services. FTC hasn’t been allowed to take on many services.
How much information do you ask for from community groups that you give money to?
FTC has a committee that specifically looks at this and audits the groups.
A member of the group also remarked that there is a need for the 1972 act to be made up to date, and that there are bizarre regulations that are currently in place.
Additional notes on this topic from the Breaking the Mould booklet can be found here.