Morecambe MP slams ‘rogue’ town council as it reveals plans to keep most of controversial £1m ‘Frontierland tax’

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Morecambe MP David Morris has branded Morecambe Town Council as 'rogue' after he learned of budget proposals to use the controversial £1m ‘Frontierland tax’ fund to bolster their reserves.

The MP was due to raise the issue in a Parliamentary debate yesterday (January 17) at 4pm.

In its budget proposals for 2024/25, Morecambe Town Council proposes a 33% reduction in its council tax precept but this still means residents will not receive a full rebate from the controversial Frontierland fund.

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The £1m Community Action Fund would be shifted into council reserves, with £150,000 of it used towards cutting the council tax precept.

Morecambe Town Hall. Photo: Kelvin StuttardMorecambe Town Hall. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard
Morecambe Town Hall. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

In 2023/24, there was a massive increase in the town council's council tax precept of 231% to help them raise £1m to set up a 'Community Action Fund' to redevelop the Frontierland

site for community use.

This decision caused massive controversy, was dubbed 'the Frontierland tax', and was even brought up in Parliament by Morecambe MP David Morris.

David Morris MP said: “These plans by Morecambe Town Council are simply outrageous.

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“The people of Morecambe have overwhelmingly rejected these rises, and the council have now admitted that the reason for the rises, a so called ‘community fund’ is not being used for that purpose, and they are using the money to bolster their reserves and create more spending for their parish council.

“It is financial mismanagement of the highest order and I will be holding a debate in Parliament this afternoon about this rogue town council and what can be done to stop parish councils creating such extortionate rises.

“To present this as a 33% reduction on last year, while still keeping most of what was a massive increase on people’s bills is outrageous.

"People in Morecambe are wise to their tactics and I am totally exasperated with their behaviour."

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In response to the town council’s claim that last year they invited David Morris to come and discuss ongoing funding, Mr Morris said: “The response from the Town Council is equally astounding. They owe the taxpayers in Morecambe £1 million pounds , but they want to meet with me to discuss receiving money from the Government as well.

"It is simply outrageous. To completely ignore the fact that residents in Morecambe have overwhelmingly rejected this increase, and the reason for the so called community fund is null and void, but still don’t propose to do anything about it.

“There is a reason Parish Councils do not receive a Government grant this is because they do not provide any statutory services like District and County Councils.

"I do not agree with Morecambe Town Council that there should not be any changes to this legislation.

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"Nor do I believe that a parish council should be empire building at the expense of hardworking Morecambe residents.

“The town council need to take their head out of the sand and come up with a concrete proposal to return the £1 million pound fund to the taxpayers of Morecambe to whom it belongs, and stop grandstanding about political meetings that are not going to happen.”

Other budget proposals include money for staffing, office equipment, audits, training, community grants, grants for festivals and events, weed control, the town council website, tourism, putting on the council's own events, and town maintenance and improvements.

A Morecambe Town Council spokesman said: “Last year Morecambe Town Council invited Mr Morris to come and discuss its ongoing funding and the issues facing the town and parish council sector more generally.

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"The Governments focus on localism continues to place further burden and expectation on those councils to deliver increased services while other tiers of local authority are facing repeated cuts in central government funding (for example, our principal authority, Lancaster City Council, has experienced a 40% cut in funding since 2008-09.).

"To date the Council has not received a response, but it extends that invitation publicly once again.

“The reason for such a substantial rise last year was solely to create the Community Action Fund for a potential community project on the former Frontierland site. Following Council elections in May 2023, a new administration with an alternative vision entered post and resolved not to proceed with that particular project.

"With the reason for raising those funds no longer applicable, the Council was advised by the National Association of Local Councils that it was reasonable to reallocate funds and – having conducted a public consultation ahead of the original project – that it would be sensible to consult the public again ahead of any significant expenditure of those funds.

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“The money is still there and has not been spent. If the budget is approved, part of it is to be returned to ratepayers via a reduction in the precept.

"The remainder is to be held in reserves, which councils are obliged to retain to adhere to the legislative framework against which they are held accountable by an external auditor appointed by the SAAA – an organisation set up by the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government.

"To call this financial mismanagement is completely misleading – it's financial responsibility.

“It is important to note that if the precept hadn’t been raised for the Community Action Fund, residents would still have seen a significant rise in last year’s precept to account for the growth of the Council’s services.

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“The proposed total precept this year is at a level that is by no means unusual across the country, with 683 other councils collecting a comparable or greater amount in 2023-24. The proposed precept still works out as £24.20 less per Band D property than the national average for Councils collecting a similar total precept.

“In terms of services, this budget looks to build on the success and positive response to the work of the Town Rangers, aiming to further improve delivery for ongoing public realm enhancements, whilst prioritising pavements and alleyways to ensure open spaces are cleaner and safer for all.

“Morecambe has a thriving festivals and events scene and a wonderful culture of proactive community groups which the Council is proud to support.

"The proposed increase in grant funding available this year – totalling £60,000 for Festivals and Events and £35,000 for Community Grants – will allow the Council to provide vital assistance to more of these local organisations, helping to alleviate their financial pressures and enabling them to focus on delivering essential services and projects to residents at a hyper-local level.

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“Morecambe Town Council is proud to invest in Morecambe, proud of its track record of delivery in Morecambe, and will always make sure money collected locally is used to make a significant difference to local people.”

The next meeting of Morecambe Town Council will be held today (January 18) at 7pm at Morecambe Town Hall.

The meeting is open to the public.