We’ll be providing regular updates for Town and Parish Councils as we progress towards the creation of Dorset Council on 1 April 2019.
On this page:
- Guidance on transfer of assets to town and parish councils
- Guidance on recharging for town and parish council elections
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Guidelines on the transfer of assets to town and parish councils
Some town and parish councils have approached the district and borough councils to request the transfer of some assets to them before 1 April 2019. To create some consistency across Dorset, the Shadow Executive Committee agreed the following principles:
All assets required for the delivery of council services and those capable of generating income are transferred to the new unitary Dorset Council, but the unique circumstances of Weymouth Town Council and Portland Town Council will be considered separately.
Any resolution prior to 26 May 2018 (when the Secretary of State’s announcement was made) by a sovereign council to dispose of an asset but not yet legally completed may continue unless it contradicts these principles.
Property held as public open space, community buildings, free car parks and public toilets can be considered for transfer to the appropriate town or parish council. It would be expected that a free car park would remain free if the car park was transferred to the town or parish council.
Any transfer of assets will usually be by transfer of the freehold to a public or charitable body or via a long lease (25 years minimum). Transfer will also be dependent on an assessment of the capacity of the receiving authority/organisation to take on the asset. The council would need to be sure that if there is an ongoing maintenance cost or management role, the organisation can take this on.
Councils can consider asset transfer to community groups other than parish and town councils where appropriate and subject to the same assessment of the capacity of the group, but such transfers are considered to be lower priority because of timescales and capacity.
Any transfer (other than by a lease) of open spaces will contain overage clauses that will retain the land for public use or, if the land is sold the new Dorset Council will receive a proportion of the proceeds from the sale. When land is transferred legally, the council will put conditions on the deeds and land registration. E.g. for open spaces, generally the expectation will be for the land to be retained as open space for public use. Overage clauses entitle the transferring authority to an additional payment if the land use changes and its value increases.
Where a council has negotiated the devolution of a service to a town or parish council and asset is transferred to support the delivery of that service, there will be no financial loss to the new Dorset Council i.e. the transfer is cost neutral. E.g. if open spaces were transferred, Dorset Council would not pay for grass cutting, but could enter into an agreement with the town or parish council to maintain the land subject to an appropriate payment being made.
No financial agreement will be made with a town or parish council, or other receiving body to support the maintenance and running of a transferred asset after 1 April 2019.
Any asset transfer that could have a financial impact upon the new Dorset Council will be initially assessed by the interim Section 151 Officer and, if it has a significant financial impact, or potential significant impact, seek approval by the Shadow Executive. If an asset exceeds this value, the transfer will be reflected as a loss on the council’s balance sheet. E.g. at Corfe Castle, the parish council have requested transfer of the public toilets but their current value exceeds £100,000. These situations will be referred to the Shadow Executive Committee for a decision.
Guidance on recharging for town and parish council elections
A report was submitted to the Shadow Executive Committee on 15 October 2018 seeking adoption of an approach for recharging parish and town councils for their elections and by-elections to be implemented by the new Dorset Council.
It was stated at paragraph 3.4 that “Any recharge will be made in the same financial year as the election or by-election.” Consequently, the report was submitted to the Committee as early as possible to provide local councils with as much information to inform their budget-setting process for 2019/20.
The Shadow Executive Committee agreed to the adoption of the proposed approach.
It is worth making the following points:-
- This recharging structure supersedes any approach previously agreed by the current sovereign councils that would be in effect from 1 April 2019, some of which stated that any recharges would be made in the following financial year.
- For May 2019 and scheduled elections thereafter, if a parish or town council does not have a contested election there will be no recharge. Historically, the elections for the majority of smaller local councils have not been contested and it is not anticipated that there will be any change to this trend. However, parish/town clerks and councillors will be best placed to predict whether there will be sufficient local interest to trigger a contested election and therefore whether their council needs to budget for this.
Officers understand that, arising from the adoption of this approach to recharging, local councils would like some clarity about the actual cost of an election for council. It is not possible to provide individual forecasts for all 163 local councils in the Dorset area, particularly as the cost of some items will depend on such variables as the number of candidates seeking election.
However, all clerks have now been sent a spreadsheet which can be used as a ‘calculator’ to give an indication of the approximate cost of a contested election for their area in May 2019. Whilst there will still remain variables that officers cannot forecast at this stage of planning for the elections, this calculator should give local councils an approximate cost on which they can base their budget assumptions for 2019/20 and inform their decision on the level of precept.
The feedback received from clerks to date has been very positive. However, officers are more than happy to answer any questions about this.