I haven’t yet completed the Consultation on the Levy as I freely admit to being a bit befuddled by the figures presented in the Consultation document. Looking at the pie chart, I have no quarrel with the 53% of the Levy which is used for conservation and maintenance, though why isn’t it a bigger slice of the pie?24% is set out as being ‘protecting and safeguarding’ and I that seems to be rather a big proportion. And then there’s the 23% which is ‘engagement, governance and administration’. Is that a typical percentage for a non-profit making organisation?Some time ago, when he was active on this forum, John Cameron suggested that the WPCC needed to increase the Levy to service pension payments. Does anyone know if this is the case?Lastly, I feel the projects the Consultation document cites to justify the additional income (under ‘The difference this additional income would make’) should already be covered under the ‘conservation and maintenance’ expenditure. So why do they need more income?Does anyone have any insights?
Catherine Schade ● 63d26 Comments
Just in case anyone fances taking the establishment on...The next Commons election is in March...https://www.wpcc.org.uk/governance/conservators-election-2024
Adrian Pearce ● 27d
> Has anyone else had difficulty accessing the consultation online? When I enter my unique code number I come up with a “Survey not available” error message.No problems, I just submitted mine.I don't think it's a very secure process. The Unique reference number is only 6 digits. So probably 1 in 10 randomly entered codes would probably work.
John Kettlekey ● 36d
I have just received the following explanation of how the consultation works from WPCC:
Civica will be carrying out both a Quantitative Analysis and a Qualitative Analysis on the individual responses – an explanation of both is:
Using a univariate approach, the quantitative analysis will include response rates to both questions and the breakdown by online/postal. The key objective of this analysis is to simply describe the data using numbers and percentages.
Using an inductive approach, the qualitative analysis will include content and thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is a method for analysing qualitative data that entails searching across a data set to identify, analyse, and report repeated patterns. (A theme is a ‘patterned response or meaning’). It is a method for describing data, but it also involves interpretation in the processes of selecting codes and constructing themes. This method is used when seeking to understand a set of experiences, thoughts, or behaviours across a data set.
With regard to the process, this is a consultation in which we are seeking the views of the households in the levy-paying area on our proposal. We have also invited the key stakeholders, which include the MPs for Putney, Richmond Park and Wimbledon; the local authorities in Kingston, Merton and Wandsworth; and the Putney Society and the Wimbledon Society to submit representations. It is not a referendum.
Nicholas Evans ● 36d
Has anyone else had difficulty accessing the consultation online? When I enter my unique code number I come up with a “Survey not available” error message. Nick
Nicholas Evans ● 36d
Ten days left to tell commons conservators to rein in their tax increase plans Published: Thursday, October 19, 2023* Council leader brands proposed levy increase “totally unacceptable” * 25 per cent rise would hit thousands of households in west of the borough* Conservators’ consultation closes October 29People living in 28,000 homes in the west of the borough have just ten days left to have their say on plans by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators for another inflation-busting rise in the levy they charge residents.The conservators are planning a 25 per cent plus inflation rise in the bills they charge for maintaining Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath and Putney Common. They have launched a public consultation on their plans which concludes on October 29.Last year their average charge to the 28,000 households subject to the levy was just under £36. This would rise to £45 if their current plans proceed.Their last increase of just under 13 per cent came at a time when the council froze its share of council tax bills in support of residents struggling to make ends meet in the cost-of-living crisis.Council leader Simon Hogg, who has written to the Government urging it to block the proposal, said: “The scale of this proposed increase, coming after last year’s rise of almost 13 per cent, is totally unacceptable.“We froze council tax bills because we wanted to support our residents through the economic downturn. The Conservators did the opposite and are now looking to hit thousands of our residents with another unjustifiable increase in bills.“There is still time for people to tell the conservators to think again. I would urge everyone affected by these proposals to take part in the consultation and voice their concerns.”The levy is charged to households living close to Wimbledon Common and also those in the old parish of Putney, which includes Roehampton, and is collected through council tax bills. It is paid by residents living in the boroughs of Wandsworth, Merton and Kingston.
John Cameron ● 37d
The WPCC are being disingenuous, the cost is clearly not £53,000, it is much much more. What is concerning is that the WPCC knew very well they did not have the support of two (of the three LA’s) at the outset. They were told in writing by the respective leaders of Wandsworth and Merton (months ago) that both the 2023 increase and the proposed 25% increase were not acceptable. Given that any change to the levy must have the support of the LA’s what are the WPCC playing at?Wandsworth have offered to engage with the WPCC to explore how savings can be made, an offer which has not been taken up.So it seems that the public consultation costs will now simply be written off. Given the financial pressures on the WPCC spending such a sum was irresponsible. Huge savings could be made within the existing budget by the WPCC if they chose to. They just don’t want to face up to the fact they need to change. There is no visibility from the WPCC on how they intend to impose the 25% or what they would do in following years when they need even more money. Is it a one off or do they want the ability to flex the budget, depending on what they need, ie is it open ended? There is NOTHING in the document about the mechanics, or the proposed and substantive changes to the governance. Elections for new trustees are early in 2024.
John Cameron ● 49d
Just received from WPCC today (11 October). Note that the £53,000 quoted is only for distribution by post to every household in the levy paying area — see my comments below.
Thank you again for your questions and taking the time to consider the current consultation on the levy. When the Conservators first announced that they were exploring amending the levy (December 2019), they committed to consulting residents which they believe is very important to understand their views.
Whilst the feedback from the informal consultation held in the autumn of 2022 showed support for increasing the levy, the Conservators believed it to be important to provide all those in the levy paying area the opportunity to respond. A budget of £53,000 was approved to enable the distribution of consultation documents by post to every household in the levy paying area. The cost of organising of meetings to engage with levy payers and provide an opportunity to ask questions was not included in the £53,000 budget.
A link to the report from the consultation held in the autumn of 2022, prepared by Resources for Change can be found here: https://www.wpcc.org.uk/about-us/masterplan-consultation
This is useful but may not include:
— the overall cost of the 2022 consultation (see link);
— printing and designing the mailout;
— the online submission facility cost;
— who will be analysing the responses and expense of doing that;
— the expense of holding four meetings for residents.
Based on this I would estimate that the overall expense of this consultation will be more than £100,000. This is a big financial risk to take in light of the negative reaction of the Councils who actually collect the tax.
Nicholas Evans ● 50d
I am waiting for a statement from WPCC on what the cost of the consultancy exercise actually is which I asked for last week. They say that they will let me have it this afternoon.
While waiting for this I went through the Annual Report again. The Chairman Diane Neil Mills says in her (very long) report that “We tested support in principle for increasing the levy with an indicative increase of £8 for a band D property … the proposal received very strong support.” However when digging a little more deeply into that support it should be noted that there were only 619 individual responses to the last consultancy done in 2022 — before inflation and the cost of living crisis. Yes, 97% of those were positive (about 600) but this only represents just 1.5% of levy-paying households, and probably half that percentage if you take account of the numberpeople living in the levy area.
In my view this is too small a sample to judge overall opinion on a potential rise, even before a closer examination of the techniques used to obtain the sample. Levy-payers must have much clearer information before agreeing to the proposed 25% increase to the base tax rate being levied currently which will also be subject to inflationary rises on top — just under 13% in the last year and probably the same in 2024. Nick
Nicholas Evans ● 50d
3 October 2023Thérèse Coffey MPSecretary of StateDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsNobel House, 17 Smith SquareLondon, SW1P 3JRDear Secretary of State,Wandsworth Council has been notified by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC) that they wish to increase the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Special Levy, a local tax that pays towards the upkeep of green spaces in Wandsworth and neighbouring London boroughs.I understand from the previous correspondence between DEFRA and WPCC (your ref: PO2022/12999/BG) that evidence of support from local authorities is welcomed by your department in your consideration of increases in the WPCC’s council tax levy above the inflationary limit, and that you have the power to make a decision in principle.I am writing to confirm that Wandsworth Council does not support WPCC’s proposed uprating of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Special Levy by 25%. I understand that this increase would be in addition to the inflationary increase that the WPCC apply at the maximum level every year already, so residents’ bills could rise by almost a third under their proposals.We have offered to work with the WPCC to find efficiencies given the council itself maintains a number of its own open spaces, but this offer has not been taken up.With high inflation and the cost of living crisis affecting everyone in Wandsworth, it is more important than ever that residents’ bills are kept as low as possible. That is why Wandsworth Council froze the main rate of council tax in 2023-24.I hope you can reassure the Council and residents in Wandsworth that you intend to reject this request which is wholly unacceptable. Yours sincerely, Leader of the Councilcc : Councillor Ross Garrod, London Borough of Merton Leader: Fleur Anderson, Member of Parliament, Putney
John Cameron ● 50d
I suspect one would need to factor in the rangers shift patterns and holiday rotas? I've often seen rangers patrolling on horseback on Wimbledon Common.
Michael Ixer ● 50d
I think you might need a new calculator.Anyway, it's not the rangers' salaries that are the biggest problem with the escalating WPCC costs.
John Kettlekey ● 50d
"There are 7 security staff, (the rangers) who have a cost of £500,000 a year"I can't remember when I last saw one.A ratio of police to public the surrounding towns can only dream of."On an average summer weekend there are some 10,000 visitors and users of the Commons"That's a ratio of 1 ranger to 714 visitors
Ed Robinson ● 50d
Hallo, MichaelYe, actually I agree with you. More health and safety issues, more following new but necessary protocols. Proper care for the horses and of course the wildlife.I live within the designated boundary and am happy to pay the increase.
Carole Tanner ● 51d
The WPCC operations manager role ceased to exist when Steve Bound took over from Simon Lee as CEO. It is my understanding that staff costs are not exceptional compared to other organisations that run open spaces. The 1871 Act was carefully drafted such that funding of these precious open spaces was outwith the interference of politicians and so it must remain. If the levy is not increased the risk is that further commercialisation will be required in order to guarantee income. Is that what users want? Please be aware that political interference in the setting of the annual levy almost brought WPCC to its financial knees in the very recent past.
Shirley Gillbe ● 52d
I live just outside the levy zone so I'm sort of neutral on this. Is it possible that changes such as lots more people visiting these facilities or additional legislation - environmental, safety/security, etc - means additional staff are required to comply with this and maintain/support them? I must admit I can't see why accommodation is provided but can see why horses would be better for patrolling some areas inaccessible to motor vehicles. Just asking!
Michael Ixer ● 52d
It's interesting to see the numbers from the WPCC which simply confirm what any levy payer can see from the accounts. The overheads of staff grow and grow. This is a small charity who have a simple remit, to manage and protect the commons under the 1871 Act.Over the past few years the headcount has increased by 25%, but with no addional responsibilies it's hard to justify why. This started with Simon Lee who insisted he needed an Operations Manager, a newly created role.Today the senior managment comprise Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operations Manager, Deputy Clerk & Ranger, Wildlife Conservation & Officer, Fundraising Manager and EA to Chief Executive. With salaries of some £350,000, plus some homes on the common it's a huge overhead for a small charity.There are 7 security staff, (the rangers) who have a cost of £500,000 a year, plus all the costs of the horses, stables and so on. Are the an anachronism today? What other common or public space has a full time security team 365 days a year? None?The CEO is on a package of £100k, plus a house. The WPCC don't need more money, they need to get a grip on the overhead and spend the substantial income they currently enjoy on maintaining the common, not on fancy and ambitious plans that they cannot afford.How much did the public consulataion cost, given that the proposed plans are, more or less, dead in the water.
John Cameron ● 52d
In my earlier posting (see above) I mentioned that I had asked WPCC a number of questions related to their expenditure. I have now received a helpful reply from Paula Graystone which I am pasting below. It is quite long so I will not comment on individual points raised. However it is worth saying that their proposals include raising £375,000 in additional income each year. This proposed increase is in addition to any annual inflationary increase, the most recent of which was 13%. I have also now asked them for the costs related to the consultation.
Reply from WPCC:
Thank you for your enquiry regarding salary and security costs.
Breakdown of Keepers and Commons’ Security Costs
Staffing - £484,506 – this includes six full-time mounted keepers, one full-time maintenance/security ranger based at Putney Lower Common and a percentage of office-based staff costs for support including administration costs for our duty officer role, out of hours and additional security back up support.
Horse Costs - £28,284 – this includes vet services, shoeing, feed and bedding.
Sundry Costs - £11,433 – this includes, telephones, radios, utilities gas/electricity, tuition, and insurance.
Use of Horses to Patrol
You also asked if we had considered whether the horses might be replaced by mechanical transport for the patrolling Keepers and if they were cost-efficient.
We have considered replacing the horses with mechanical forms of the transport. Horses are so much more efficient in moving through thick cover that vehicles cannot get into; the keepers and horses offer a visible reassurance to members of the public in the more remote locations on the Commons and the keepers are able to see to much more from horseback. Not only that, but we also have a history of having mounted keepers patrolling the Commons and they are part of our social history and are valued by members of the public both old and young.
We believe that the patrol horses are cost efficient, better for the environment and promote a sense of safety.
Staffing Levels and Costs
You also asked about the increase in staff levels (and asked if some of these were part-time) and asked about the increase in salary costs from £1,385,688 in 2022 to £1,505,360 in 2023, which you felt raised questions that levy-payers would need to understand.
The figures you have quoted from our accounts include additional pension costs that do not of themselves result in a cash outflow for the charity, as explained in the accounts. The increase is staff costs reflects the changes in staffing levels.
As stated in our accounts for the year ending 31 March 2023, the average number of persons employed in full and part-time positions by the Charity during the year was 26.
The changes from the previous year are set out below (and are also stated in our accounts).
Administration – One part-time officer assistant
Maintenance - One full-time litter picker and an additional member for the maintenance team
Fundraising – One full-time fundraising manager
Hopefully, I have answered your questions fully. Paula Graystone.
Nicholas Evans ● 53d
Merton and Wandsworth Councils condemn Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservator proposals to dramatically hike local tax3 October 2023 in Leader of the council, Statements.In a statement issued today, the leaders of Merton and Wandsworth Councils, Cllrs Ross Garrod and Simon Hogg, have jointly condemned proposals from the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators for another inflation-busting rise in the levy they charge to local residents in the area.“Whilst we continue to work directly with the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC), we are deeply disappointed that they are still pushing for a minimum 25 per cent rise in the bills they charge for maintaining their open spaces. This comes in addition to the last increase of just under 13 per cent.“We are fully aware of the pressure residents are under in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and the scale of this proposed increase is impossible to justify. As responsible councils we simply cannot support another increase on that level.“If you are a local resident subject to this extraordinary tax, we would urge you to respond to the public consultation to ensure your voices are heard.”
John Cameron ● 56d
Without the support of Wandsworth, Merton and the Government the proposal to increase 25% is now dead in the water. The WPCC ‘consultation’ is an utter waste of tens of thousands of pounds. Why did the WPCC spend vast sums, knowing they did not have support? The savings needed are self evident, the ambitious plans are unnecessary. ————————————-Councillor Hogg has branded the conservators plans as “wholly unacceptable” in a letter to the Government, which has the power to block the increase and whose specific consent is required for the Conservators’ plan to proceed.In his letter to Defra minister Therese Coffey Councillor Hogg says: “I am writing to confirm that Wandsworth Council does not support WPCC’s proposed uprating of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Special Levy by 25%. I understand that this increase would be in addition to the inflationary increase that the WPCC apply at the maximum level every year already, so residents’ bills could rise by almost a third under their proposals.“We have offered to work with the WPCC to find efficiencies given the council itself maintains a number of its own open spaces, but this offer has not been taken up. “With high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis affecting everyone in Wandsworth, it is more important than ever that residents’ bills are kept as low as possible. That is why Wandsworth Council froze the main rate of council tax in 2023-24. “I hope you can reassure the Council and residents in Wandsworth that you intend to reject this request which is wholly unacceptable.”These points have also been made in a letter to Diana Neil Mills who chairs the commons conservators. Councillor Hogg points out: “Wandsworth Council opposed the 12.6% rise that you imposed in your levy last year. There are no circumstances in which increasing your levy by a further 25%, in addition to future rises at the rate of inflation, can be justified. It certainly is not justified now during the cost-of-living crisis. “Many of the parks, commons and green spaces that the Council maintains are award-winning, with six open spaces being awarded a Green Flag this year. We have managed and funded them throughout many years of public sector austerity.“Despite these financial challenges, public sector organisations have had to innovate and create efficiencies into our ways of working that don’t negatively impact on residents. I reiterate my previous offer of cooperative assistance to you so that you can manage the commons effectively instead of issuing ever-rising bills to Wandsworth residents.”The conservators charge residents in three boroughs – Wandsworth, Merton and Kingston - an annual levy to pay for the upkeep of Wimbledon Common, Putney Common and Putney Heath.The charge is payable by households that lie within three quarters of a mile of Wimbledon Common, or within the old Parish of Putney as it was in 1871, which includes much of Roehampton.
John Cameron ● 56d
"There are elections for new trustees in March of next year."It is difficult to know who to vote for as there are no guarantees that sales pitches will be followed through.I would suggest if the councils are concerned perhaps the main political parties should field candidates?At least then they may be some accountability.
Ed Robinson ● 60d
Currently there is no scope to extend the area - it is set by the 1871 Act (that created the commons) - as well as the two Statutory Instruments (1990 and 1993 which set the current levy). So the costs fall only on the households within the area. There are homes in Richmond as well, which fall within the 1871 map, but they have never paid the levy, due to past mistake by the WPCC, which Richmond refuse to correct. What the trustees don’t say in their current ‘consultation’ is that to increase they levy they will need further Secondary Legislation, which will be lengthy and expensive. They give no indication of how this will be achieved. There are two routes, either a Minister bringing it forward or a Private Members Bill; both need approval by Parliament. Given the strenuous objections by Merton and Wandsworth councils to the proposed further increase, (over this year’s 12%) it is hard to see how any further rise will be supported by Government. The costs of the WPCC are out of control, big salaries, more staff than ever and ambitious and unnecessary plans that need to funded. There are elections for new trustees in March of next year.
John Cameron ● 61d
I doubt that the Commons are used only by people in the payment catchment area. I wonder if there is any scope for extending the area where the levy is imposed.
Elizabeth Balsom ● 62d
I too am concerned on a number of issues. At least we have fuller accounts then previously (over 60 pages!), but it’s difficult to see how expenditure is apportioned. For example the “Keepers and Commons Security” cost of £525,224 is not broken down. I’ve asked WPCC to give me details of what the stabling, horses, and associated costs actually are. Of course we don’t see mounted rangers on Putney Common. Is this a sensible way to secure Wimbledon Common? Are there alternatives?
I also noted that staff levels have risen by 3 (there is no indication of whether they are part time or not) and salary costs have gone up from £1,385,688 in 2022 to £1,505,306 in 2023. The CEO, who is paid between £80,000 and £90,000, has free use of a house, and one other staff member gets £70,000 — £80,000. So when considering increases in the levy and a further uplift on a permanent basis I think we need more clarity on existing costs.
The last consultation exercise had a responses of just 608 replies. Sending out 40,000+ posted leaflets and holding meetings will cost a fair amount.
I reserve my judgement for the time being. Nick (Who was for a short time an elected Conservator)
Nicholas Evans ● 62d
I would like to have seen some ideas from the Conservators as to how they could cut down on existing expenses more instead of raising the levy. Like I said on a Nextdoor post, a mailshot using folded A3 heavy stock paper with full colour double-sided print is not the best way to announce they don't have enough money. I appreciate for some people the proposed increase is small, but there are others who are in the position that increased costs over the past couple of years means they may not be able to afford more.
Carl Broadley ● 62d