|The Rushden Echo and Argus, 27th March, 1942, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Rushden Urban District Council
Rate Advanced After Three Years
Rushden Council Adds Twopence
Member Attacks Casual Ward Extravagance
Though a rate increase of 2d. in the £ was adopted cheerfully at the Rushden Urban Council’s financial meeting on Wednesday, the oldest member declaring that he “expected more,” a protest against extravagant public expenditure was made by Coun. Weale, who asserted that the staff at the big Irthlingborough casual ward was equal in number to the inmates. It was suggested that the Council may consider a complaint to the Government.
The “Budget” speech was made by Coun. E. A. Sugars as chairman of the Finance Committee.
In presenting the estimates Coun. Sugars mentioned the “lengthy deliberations” of the Finance Committee last Monday. He referred to the Budget meeting as the Council’s annual opportunity to give the townspeople “the best that is within us for the asking” and agreed that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
During the present year, he said, the product of a penny rate had increased from £334 to £340 and the rateable value from £85,000 to £86,484. The rate of 12s. 4d. had produced £50,320, or £1,184 more than was estimated, but of this increase the County Council had taken £854, their levy being for a certain rate in the £ and not for a fixed sum.
Though in these days of grim uncertainty and soaring prices it was difficult to make exact forecasts, the committees as a whole had kept well within their estimates. The Highways Committee saved £1,340, chiefly through underspending on materials for district roads and by the reduced local cost of the fire service. The Health and Sanitary Committee saved £21 and the Parks and Baths Committee saved £256, this committee benefiting from an increased income on the baths and the Hall Grounds. The Finance Committee saved £58 on salaries.
On the other hand the Housing Committee overspent to the extent of £1,040, this being due to the anomalous position which rendered the Council (and therefore the ratepayers) responsible for the payment of war damage insurance on Council houses without being able to make the tenants contribute.
The net underspending of the committees was £624. This and the Council’s £330 share of the increased rate product were the chief reasons why the balance of £4,636 at the beginning of the financial year had been increased by £1,006 to make the extremely satisfactory surplus of £5,642. The increase of balance could not have been made, however, had not important road and other work been deferred owing to shortage of labour and materials.
Mr. Sugars maintained that the balance of £5,642 was not unduly large; it was necessary for working purposes, as a contingency against unforeseen expenditure, to obviate special rates and as a reserve to prevent hardship in times of depression.
It was still the policy of the Finance Committee to add to balance while money was “easy” and so be prepared for any stormy times ahead. This policy, coupled with the Micawber tradition of wise and watchful spending, represented realism applicable to war as well as to peace.
It was with great regret that the Finance Committee recommended the increase of 2d in the £ after keeping the rate at 12s. 4d. in the £ for four years.
Causes of Rise
The County Council, with its increase of 1½d in the £, required £36,805 from Rushden; the Urban Council required £11,950 (a decrease of 1½d in the £, and the Water Board called for £1,360 (an increase of 2d.). With £800 for the Joint Hospital Board and £85 for the Area Assessment Committee, the full sum required was £51,000, which represented a net increase of 2d. in the £.
The increased precepts of the County Council and Water Board were responsible for the extra demand, the Water Board having to face a reassessment of its properties and war bonuses to its workmen.
Allowing for rate discounts, the de-rating grant of £9,995 and a sum of £417 which it was proposed to take out of the balance, the resultant figure was £21,527, which represented the net requirements of the committee. The pruning hook had been used freely on the estimates, and as compared with 12 months ago the committees were budgeting as follows: Highways, £1,020 decrease (including £606 decrease on district roads, £314 decrease on the fire Service, £200 decrease on lighting and £100 increase on scavenging): Health and Sanitary £241 increase (including £195 increase on refuse collection. £195 increase on sewage farm, £91 decrease on cemetery and other small decreases): Library, £70 increase; Parks and Baths, £70 decrease; Housing, £1,040 increase (including war damage insurance of £1,030); Finance, £45 decrease.
But for the war damage insurance the committees would have been able to show a net reduction of £884 although bonuses and increased wages were costing an additional £900.
Mr. Sugars suggested that the increase of 2d. in the £ would make little difference to the average ratepayer, involving, as it did, less than a halfpenny per week to the average tenant. The town’s financial position, he said, was sound. The loan debt was steadily declining, being now £366,000 as compared with £372,092 a year ago. Only £20,000 remained to be paid off in respect of properties other than houses. The rate of 12s. 6d. was well below the average of urban districts of the size of Rushden as also was the rate per head of the population, which was little more than £3 per head.
Not A Burden
“There has been a little speculation going on in the town as to what was likely to happen,” added Mr. Sugars, “but although, unfortunately, we have had to make an increase, I don’t think the ratepayers will consider it a burden under present circumstances, especially as money is rather easy. I don’t think they will worry very much. I think they will agree that we apply economy, and that it is most satisfactory.”
Coun. Richardson seconded.
The Chairman (Coun. T. W. Cox) thanked Mr. Sugars for his lucid and able report, and the Accountant (Mr. A. Maclean) for his capable preparation of the figures. The town’s finances were very sound, but they would all agree that the few hundred pounds added to the working balance was very necessary owing to the demands made on local funds by Government departments, for whose repayments the Council sometimes had to wait.
“It is no more than I expected,” said Coun. Spencer, “in fact, I expected more. The Chairman of the Committee said he regretted there was a twopenny increase. I have known the time when there was a two-shilling increase and the town seemed to like it they returned the existing members with an increased majority!
“The purpose of an Urban Council is to see that the money is well expended, and to keep the offices and appliances in good condition. In normal circumstances I should have moved the rejection of the report because provision is not made for these purposes. The word ‘economy’ is nearly always brought forward by people who don’t intend to spend anything under any circumstances. The only doubt in my mind is whether the balance is large enough considering the difficulties of the times and the unforeseen things that might happen. I think the Committee might have been bolder and moved double this increase.”
Coun. Allen said the saving by the Highway Committee was fictitious. They would be faced with high expenditure after the war.
Coun. Weale said his experience was that every Committee was a committee of practical economists. He did not, however, agree with what Mr. Spencer had said as to whether another 2d. or 6d. would make any difference. He knew of people in Rushden who were not wealthy the silent few who had to take every care to get together their rate when it was due; and he had every sympathy with these careful people who had not the opportunity of being so well off as some of the others.
Pointing out that the Council was very largely ruled by the County Council precept figures, Coun. Weale said that within a stone’s throw of Rushden was a very expensively built casual ward (at Irthlingborough) where for a long time now the number of visiting “men of the highways” had been practically on a par with the number of the staff.
Not In Order
Interrupting on a point of order, Coun. Allebone said that as a County Councillor he could give the members all the information they wanted, but it was not in order for the point to be raised on the local estimates.
“As long as we have to pay the piper to the County Council, I think we have every right to discuss the matter,” replied Coun. Weale, “and I am trying to draw attention to a gross public extravagance. If there are such cases in this county or elsewhere to-day it is time to take our complaints farther and request the Government to see that we have value for our money.”
Coun. Roe said he thought the Council would find that they would have a very satisfactory balance at the end of the year. They ought not to put the County Council 1½d forward as an excuse for increasing their rates, because last year, though the County Council made a reduction of 3d. they did not put their rate down at all.
Coun. Allebone said he believed the law definitely stated that they could levy a rate to cover their estimated expenditure for the year. He did not think they were allowed to levy a rate purposely to create an increased balance.
On this point Mr. Maclean replied that rating authorities must make a “sufficient” rate, which could include provision for any contingencies which might arise during the year.
Coun. Capon observed that on an assumed population of 16,580 the full rate worked out at only 1s. 2d. per head per week, of which 10¼d. went to the County Council, which meant that the local charge was only 3¾d. per person per week.
The Chairman: It is marvellous!
The health services, continued Mr. Capon, were supplied for 1¼d. per week no one would complain of that. The housing liability only strengthened the Council’s financial position, for the property was kept in good repair while the loans were being repaid. The total loan debt of £366,000 worked out at only £22 per head, and he did not know of any town of the size of Rushden with such a low figure. It meant that when the time came for renewed enterprise they could go ahead with any scheme for the benefit of the town.
Replying to the discussion Coun. Sugars acknowledged the work of Mr. Maclean in whom, he said, they had a very capable officer.
A resounding chorus of “Aye” declared that the rate of 12s. 6d. was adopted.
The Chairman asked the members to accompany him to St. Mary’s Church for the united prayer service next Sunday evening. It was also agreed to attend an A.T.C. parade and inspection at Rushden Hall on April 15th, when the Rushden Squadron’s new headquarters in Victoria-road will be opened. April 15th is also the date of the Council’s annual meeting but the members met the difficulty by agreeing to defer their meeting until 3 o’clock.
In further discussion of Coun. Weale’s complaint about the Irthlingborough casual ward, the Chairman suggested that the point might be raised at one of the Committee meetings.
“For the townspeople as well as ourselves,” Coun. Paragreen moved thanks to the Chairman for his work during the year. Mr. Cox, he said, had set an example of consideration for the members, of efficiency, tact and courtesy. There had not been an unpleasant incident during the year and Mr. Cox had fulfilled many social engagements with the same kindliness and consideration that the Councillors had experienced. He was known a long time ago as the “Hospital Man.” It was a title he had fully earned, and he was still the “Hospital Man.”
Coun. George seconded, and Coun. Sawford supported. The vote was carried with applause.
Coun. Cox replied that the year, though strenuous for him, had appeared to pass quickly, and, apart from the terrible hostilities, had been a happy one. They had done some good national work and some good local work and he hoped to be included among the men who had done the best they could for the work of the Council and the community at large.
Speaking in praise of the Clerk, the Accountant and other officers, Mr. Cox said they were so helpful that it would be ridiculous for any Chairman to be afraid of going wrong.
There was also a vote of thanks to the Vice-Chairman (Coun. Sawford), Dr. Davies and Coun. Weale both spoke of him as a hard worker on Committees, and Coun. Cox acknowledged his work for the Aid-to-Russia Fund.
Mr. Sawford replied that he was not one who sought prominence in the Press or on the platform. He liked to put his shoulder to the wheel and do the spade-work in the Committee rooms.
Members present were: Couns. T. W. Cox, J.P. (Chairman), W. J. Sawford (Vice-Chairman), A. H. Bailey, J. Roe, A. Allebone, J.P., C.C., F. Green, J.P., Dr. R. W. Davies, J. Allen, Mrs. O. A. H. Muxlow, W. E. Capon, A. F. Weale, J. George, T. J. Swindall, J. Spencer, J.P., J. H. J. Paragreen, H. Waring, J. T. Richardson and E. A. Sugars.