Book News: February 26th, 2008

Charging for local services makes a significant contribution to council finances. In 2006/07 councils received around 8 per cent of their total income from charges and this is about half as much as they raised in council tax. This report from the Audit Commission looks at ways that councils can maximise the benefits of local public service charges.

The use that councils make of charging is determined by the legislative framework of powers and by other local factors over which councils have opportunities to exert some influence. The Commission found that how charging contributes to the achievement of council objectives is often unclear. Four in ten councils report that they do not have a written corporate policy on charging.

Only one in five council finance directors believe that their councils make optimal use of charging powers. As part of a review of charging in 2007, a unitary council identified that it was only recovering 71 per cent of its 156,000 pounds expenditure in relation to taxi licensing, compared to an average for similar authorities of 86 per cent.

Some councils believe that local people have a generally low opinion of council services and will expect them to be as cheap as possible. But this perception may underestimate people’s awareness of the link between what they pay and the quality of service that councils provide. An Ipsos MORI’s survey of the general public found that, for most charged-for council services, most people who had paid a charge agreed that they had received value for money.

The report is available from the Audit Commission.