Craven District Council accused of trying to ‘steal’ from parishes

Craven Herald: Craven District Council chief executive Paul Shevlin Craven District Council chief executive Paul Shevlin

Craven Council has been accused of attempting to steal money from the parishes to bolster its revenue budget.

Coun Paul English (Lib Dem) said the council had a moral duty to pass on government grants intended for parish and town councils, which vary from £47,000 to £5.61 depending on the size of the council.

And, he claimed, if it held on to any part of the money, it was effectively stealing.

“It is the right thing to do, we are custodians of the money and nothing else and if we use it for our revenue budget it is effectively stealing money from the parishes,” he said.

At last week’s full council meeting, a decision was due to be made on whether the grants should be passed on – even though parish and town councils had been given until December 20 to comment on the issue.

Many councillors said it was not right that the council was looking at “skimming off” some of the money, while one compared it to taking a grandmother’s pension.

But even though councillors were urged to make a decision by the leader, Chris Knowles-Fitton, they were advised by chief executive Paul Shevlin to wait to the New Year when the council knew exactly how much it was to receive from the government.

Mr Shevlin said it had been the intention to inform parishes early to help them in the setting of their precepts, but that details of settlements had not been included in the Autumn Statement, as expected.

“The best way to resolve this issue is to wait until we have the full settlement rather than have a debate about what we don’t know,” he said.

Coun David Ireton (Cons) said it was irrelevant whether the council waited until the full settlement was known or not.

“It is about what we ought to do. The money from central government is to be passed on to the parishes in full, it is not moral to skim money that has been put forward to parishes for the district,” he said.

And Coun Robert Heseltine (Ind), who at a meeting of Skipton Town Council last month said Craven would be guilty of “theft” if it kept hold of the money, said that some parishes would be affected more than others, but for the district council to consider not handing all the grants over was “institutional misappropriation and morally indefensible”.

Coun John Kerwin-Davey (Ind) reminded councillors that the minister for local government had said in parliament that grants should be handed over in full.

And Coun Chris Harbron (Cons) said it was like taking your grandmother to the Post Office to collect her pension and then hanging onto some of it yourself.

But Coun Knowles-Fitton claimed the money was not ring-fenced and that a lot of local authorities had handed over just half, or none at all, of the grants.

He added that he had noticed that none of the Skipton members had mentioned that the town council had kept back half of its grant from last year.

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