Trowbridge Town Council is gearing up to take over the running of The Down Cemetery from Wiltshire Council in April despite fears that it could cost taxpayers more than £100,000 a year.

Councillors voted at their full council meeting on January 16 to approve their budget and a 22.85 per cent increase in their precept for the next financial year beginning on April 1.

The estimated cost to Trowbridge residents of taking control of the Down Cemetery could amount to more than £100,000 a year – but the council hopes to derive income from cemetery burials.

The council has recruited a cemeteries and allotments officer and two cemetery rangers as it gears up to take over the cemetery management and maintenance.

Trowbridge town clerk and chief executive Lance Allan said that taking on the cemetery management would impact their 2024/25 council tax precept requirement by 4.05 per cent.

After councillors approved this year’s precept requirement as part of Wiltshire’s Council Tax, Mr Allan said: “Increases in utility costs have had an impact of 4.69 per cent on the Council Tax for the town council.

“The Town Park improvement projects have increased the Council Tax by 11.28 per cent, the Town Poll costs have resulted in an extraordinary increase of 1.41 per cent and the cemetery 4.05 per cent amongst other increases.”

Wiltshire Times: Conservative town councillor Edward Kirk believes Trowbridge Town Council should ask for commercial bids as a benchmark and contract out the grounds maintenance of The Down Cemetery.Conservative town councillor Edward Kirk believes Trowbridge Town Council should ask for commercial bids as a benchmark and contract out the grounds maintenance of The Down Cemetery. (Image: Edward Kirk)

But Trowbridge town and Wiltshire councillor Edward Kirk said the council should have considered contracting out the cemetery grounds maintenance services and obtained commercial bids as a benchmark.

He said: “I would not be surprised if we are looking at £100,000 per annum to continue at this minimum standard and to do all the work necessary it could easily run into hundreds of thousands.”

“Despite Trowbridge Town Council formally agreeing to my proposal in December 2020 to obtain commercial bids in relation to the grounds maintenance and cemetery, this was ignored by the new Lib Dem council as part of their Council’s Strategy for 2021-2025.

“Therefore, this council did not undertake any market testing or tendering, beyond a looking at a schedule of rates from the Wiltshire Council contract.  

“It astounds me that Trowbridge Town Council is permitted to ignore tendering and just award the contract in-house.

“It has never made sense to me taking over these services from Wiltshire Council as our residents are just paying twice, but if the town council is intent on taking over the services like the cemetery, then it would still make sense to do it in the best most cost-efficient way and that would be by contracting out the work.

“However, this council didn’t even want to look at any potential savings from contracting out and once again most of the discussion was hidden away within a working group. Is it any surprise that the town council charge to residents has gone from £167 in 2021-22 to £270 in 2024-25 (Band D)?”

But Mr Allan said: “The council received a Cemetery Briefing from Wiltshire Council last year which was considered by officers in consultation with the Service Delegation Working Group.

“This shows that Wiltshire Council’s 2022/23 budgeted cost of maintaining the cemetery is £130,000 and that the cost of managing the burials service is £15,300 (including admin staff costs). This makes a total gross cost of £145,300.

“The anticipated income from the burials service for 2022/23 is £67,983. This makes a total net cost of £77,317.

“This equates favourably with the £100,000 included in the forward plan within the Budget Summary 2023/24.

“If CPI inflation is applied to the £77,317 of 10.1 per cent for September 2022 (known) and eight per cent for September 2023 (estimated), then £77,317 becomes £92,000, still leaving an £8,000 margin.”