Thursday, 17 April 2014

MATTERS RELATING TO A BALANCED ALLOTMENT BUDGET AND TO SUBSIDIES FOR ALLOTMENT PROVISION


ABAS STATEMENT RE: “SUBSIDIES”
As part of his presentation on 12.02.2014 Malcolm Russell (Bolton MBC) said that the Council had set a balanced budget for allotment provision - essentially expenditure on the sites (in total) will equal the sums raised in rent (in total) - the two major heads of expenditure are the provision of mains water and the provision (to a number of sites) of portable toilets for 26 weeks each year

It was suggested that this meant that the Council was not 'subsidising' the allotments to the same extent as it was subsidising other leisure activities, and that this was incorrect in law as set out through the 'Reigate and Banstead' case.

The Association was urged to challenge the Council on this matter and to ask for the reinstatement of the previous level of subsidy. The Association agreed to take advice on the matter.

The following is the Association’s response to the suggetsion which is based on advice from the National Allotment Society’s legal advisor (Liz Bunting) and discussions with Council representatives.

 
1.     All parties accept

a)     That the Reigate and Banstead case defined allotments as a leisure activity

b)    That the Reigate and Banstead case said that allotments were entitled to a subsidy

 

2.     The Council (and to an extent Ms Bunting) believe that the Reigate and Banstead case is primarily relevant to the RENTS being proposed.

 

3.     Ms Bunting points out that in the Reigate and Banstead case Counsel’s opinion was that a Local Authority would be in  error if, in setting allotment rents, the LA decided to INCREASE RENTS by a percentage which was disproportionally greater than the percentage by which the LA had increased, or proposed to increase, charges for other recreational activities (e.g. Bowling.)

 

4.     Ms. Bunting further points out that (based on both Reigate and Banstead and section 10(1) of the Allotments Act 1950) NAS Policy statement Rent/Dec13/VI states that in setting rents (essentially proposing increases) a Local Authority should take into account some 11 other factors, chief amongst which are:

a)     The rise relative to inflation - it should be noted that the Council's proposed rent increases have been in line with inflation

b)    That the authority is not seeking to make a profit from renting allotments - the Council has proposed a 'balanced budget' with rents covering the direct costs of allotment provision - but the Council is justified in expecting plot-holders to defray the costs of administering allotments

c)     The long term financial sustainability of the allotments provision (which may take into account the support of voluntary bodies etc.) - the proposed OMA system addresses this issue

 

5.     When we move from rent increases to subsidy reductions we move into a new area which may or may not be covered by current case law.

 

6.     Calculating subsidies takes us into technical areas regarding the apportionment of central administration charges within the Council.

 

7.     The likely outcome of a challenge would be (as evidenced in Mr Russell’s earlier reply to the individual raising the points ) that the Council would hold that the current ‘balanced budget’ refers to operational (direct) costs only and that the costs of  associated staff and management time represent a considerable subsidy to allotment provision (see the second part of 4b)

 

8.    The proposer had stated that he wished the subsidy money to be spent on the reinstatement of a part-time Allotments Officer.  The ABAS Executive considers that there are more effective ways of spending such sums than that and urges sites to consider the OMA system as an alternative. The Executive does however believe that savings to the Council through the operation of the OM A system and other cost cutting initiatives by individual sites must be fairly shared with the allotments community.

 

9.     At the heart of many of of the grievances aired is the question of what service the Council proposes to provide and what service plot-holders expect the Council to provide to sites and plot-holders. The expected level of service should be defined in our Tenancy Agreements and in the OMAs we sign up to. Therefore ABAS should direct its efforts to gaining a clearer definition as to what plot-holders are entitled under both current Tenancy Agreements and any new OMAs

10. The Executive wish to thank Mr G Hamer for the information he has provided on this subject.

 

 

 

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