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The Northern Echo | Posted 5th March 2017

Potto Parish Council under fire over finances

A PARISH council has come under fire for hiking its tax precept by more than 30 per cent – the second such tax rise after covering the cost of an audit investigation into its dealings.

Potto Parish Council, which covers approximately 115 households in the parish near Stokesley, has been criticised for increasing its precept by 35 per cent for its 2017/18 budget, raising it from £5,000 to £6,750 for the coming year.

It comes after the small council voted to impose a 42 per cent increase in its 2015/16 budget following an extensive investigation by auditors into allegations it was failing to comply with its regulatory requirements and legislation.

The small council had to spend £5,300 on the audit investigation into its 2014/15 annual return, following a complaint by a local resident. It resulted in an 18 month investigation by auditors PKF Littlejohn, which concluded in a report that the parish council was failing to adhere to local government rules on meetings, meaning decisions made in meetings have been “unlawful”.

The auditors’ report stated that the parish council failed to issue agendas on time to councillors on several occasions during 2014/15, breaching rules which require councillors to receive an agenda and papers at least three days before a meeting.

It stated: “Potentially this means that electors may have been denied a proper opportunity to input on council business. We also note that the meeting time is generally not shown on the agendas.”

It stated that as this did not comply with legislation, any council decisions at meetings may have been “unlawful”.

It also noted there had been errors in accounting statements included in the annual return for cancelled cheques, grants received and petty cash balances.

One villager, who did not wish to be named, also criticised a decision to increase the parish council clerk’s pay from about £500 per annum in September 2011, to £1,200 this year.

He said Potto Parish Council’s precept was £2,500 in 2011, which went up to £5,000 in 2016/17 and this year has been set on £6,750.

He said: “The precept for 2017/18 is £6,750 to be paid by approximately 110 households. As a percentage that’s completely out of control.”

But the parish council said its budget was spent mostly on improving facilities and the environment in the small village.

Chairman of the parish council, Andy Wilde said: “A member of the public put in an objection against the annual accounts when we submitted them. If they do that they have to be investigated by the external auditor and we’re liable to foot the bill. In 2015/16 the precept was increased from £3,500 to £5,000 for that year, but that was for a major project to improve the road to the village hall and improve access.

“We have ongoing projects to replace stiles with gates and improve footpaths – we just try and improve the parish for everybody because we’re only volunteers at the end of the day.

He added: “We took note of what the auditor said. On one or two occasions the agendas were supposed to be out prior to the meeting taking place, but our internet was down and that threw a spanner in the works.”