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The role of Sundry Debt and Miscellaneous Income in the Reform of Local Government

IAN FERGUSONIan Ferguson, Head of Revenues and Benefits from Durham County Council hosted an excellent session at this year’s IRRV annual conference in Telford, putting the spotlight on sources of local government revenue other than council tax and business rates. Much time, money and energy is focussed on the big revenue generators but what about planning fees, parking and a whole host of other areas of sundry debt and miscellaneous income? Who is involved in the collection of these revenues, does it fall under corporate debt, is it automated, is the perception of it much lower in importance? If so this needs to change Ian tells us.

Thanks to the age of austerity, reduced government grants, council tax capping, the reduction in the number of chargeable services and a £3.3bn reduction in government funding next year, every penny counts.

Service charging & rationing

Revenue from miscellaneous income accounted for £10.2bn in 2011/12 in England and Wales and this can’t afford to be ignored. There is enormous potential for growth in charging for valuable services and this could be a significant part of Local Authority revenue in years to come. Local Authorities need to think about rationing services in future and encouraging and discouraging the use of certain services where it makes sense.

Local Authorities need to get savvier on using charges, as Ian tells us only 1 in 5 Councils are using charges to their full potential and nearly half of all councils have no agreed policy to guide decisions on use of charges.

Going forward Ian asks authorities to consider charging in the following areas; parking charges, congestion charges, business parking, betting and gaming levies, tourist taxes, green taxes and road tolls. He also encourages authorities to look at alternative revenue streams such as trading companies, joint ventures, asset management and for profit services.

Examples of chargeable services

He cites some examples such as green waste where citizens pay a yearly fee to have green waste collected and points out that the public are often more receptive to charging for some services than is often assumed. There are of course more contentious charges such as school meals, warden services, social care charges and school transport fees, but they do need to be reviewed.

With new services and charges, there are issues to address such as bringing in potentially different customers who will require processing and administration. Also some thought needs to be given to how you deal with the elderly, vulnerable and disabled in these instances or cope with people wishing to withdraw from the service if payment is required.

In terms of recovery, new paths may need to be determined, the speed and level of fees considered, the longevity of charges as well as family and public reaction, particularly with the use of third parties to recover debt.

In conclusion all of this needs to be considered against a background of welfare reform, there is so much data on council tax and business rates but next to nothing on sundry debt and this needs addressing.

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