Recent readers of the Medway Messenger (August 7) may have been shocked to read that newly elected Member of Parliament for Rochester & Strood, Councillor Kelly Tolhurst, was being stopped from doing her bit to help out the local community:
A group of business people set up to improve Rochester will lose out on tens thousands of pounds due to financial red tape.
Kelly Tolhurst wanted to donate her council allowances to the Rochester Town Centre Forum after she became MP for Rochester and Strood and also held onto her council seat in Rochester West in May.
Of course, a councillor choosing to donate their allowance to a good cause is a noble endeavour. So what “financial red tape” was stopping Kelly from donating her council allowance to the Town Centre Forum?
Because council allowances are paid directly to councillors, they are taxed like any other income. Just like they would be if you or I or anyone else decided to donate some money to a good cause. You pay tax, and then you can do what you like with whatever is left. Apparently this is an outrage to the esteemed Member of Parliament though.
Rochester Town Centre Forum claims to currently have around £2,000 per year, that it mostly spends on Christmas lights.
Kelly Tolhurst wanted to donate her full council allowance of £8,730, which would have given the Forum £10,730.
Having to pay income tax, like the rest of us, would result in Cllr Tolhurst “only” being able to donate £5,238 to the Forum, leaving them with a measly £7,238.
As this would only be a mere 262% increase for the Forum, Rochester West’s Councillor has decided not to bother donating the money, and as such it will remain in the council account for no particular purpose.
If Cllr Tolhurst had followed through on this donation over her four year term, the Forum would have received nearly £21,000 in additional funds. But this won’t happen, all so she can avoid paying some tax.
Although it’s rather moot at this stage, it is rather curious that Tolhurst would select the Rochester Town Centre Forum as her intended beneficiary. While any town centre can always use additional funds, her constituency also contains Strood town centre, Cuxton, Halling, and the villages of the peninsula. Surely any of these centres would benefit as much as, if not far more than, the town centre of Rochester.
It would appear that rather than grandstanding on this issue, if they really did want to support the town centres of her constituency, there are a number of possible solutions:
The most logical would be to accept the council allowance, pay the legally required tax, and donate the remaining £21,000 to either Rochester Town Centre Forum or between the town centres in her constituency. After all, this money is urgently needed:
“The High Street Forum are working on projects around promotion, increasing footfall and tidying up the high street but there’s no money left to do any initiatives.
They are working on starting a Saturday artisan market and this money would have helped.”
With this being the case, there is a larger gesture that Tolhurst could make: Replace the £3,492 per year that is lost to tax with a donation from her parliamentary salary.
After all, MPs were recently given a raise of £5,588. Tolhurst could make up the figure lost, provide a nice boost to the town centres, and still be left with a yearly salary in excess of £70,000.
What do you say Kelly?