Pickles: councils have a “moral duty” to freeze council taxes.
I guess it is seen as good politics to embarrass those council leaders who are turning down the opportunity of a central grant which will enable them to freeze council tax for a second year, I for one, along with thousands of others in South Tyneside, have welcomed this much needed relief. The big question remains, how will councils behave when the scheme comes to an end, and how will they see their “moral duties” when the central cash handouts are curtailed even more severely? I like his idea of proposing a referendum be held before councils can increase council tax by more than 3.5%, a far better form of consultation than that offered regularly by South Tyneside Council in previous years where we have been offered the option of voting for a range of increases, but never been given the option of a freeze or a reduction.
Local councils in England and Wales have had all sorts of additional moral responsibilities thrust upon them by a multitude of governments over the years, and in many respects are now no more than agencies for central government policing statutes and applying regulatory duties, and in some other respects have had to carry the burden of responsibilities once carried by individuals and families. In areas of social care for the young, the weak, the vulnerable, and the elderly across all walks of life your local council is often doing the job that families used to do, the state has been forced by social change and social mobility to look after people from the cradle to the grave. Be it home care, residential care, leisure services, play schemes, nursery education, youth involvement, day care services, transport for the elderly etc. etc. your local council is doing what your grandparents would see as their own “moral duties” to look after their own family.
As we move further into the time and areas of austerity, which so far in South Tyneside and other areas has NOT been met by howls of protest, demonstrations, or riots in the streets, I wonder just how many of us may cast our minds towards our own areas of “moral duty” and start thinking again about what we can do for our families without having to resort to an arm of the state to undertake the task for us. Whilst the housing market will remain depressed for some time, I wonder if we may see households making huge sacrifices such as forsaking some comforts to bring in an elderly relative to provide care for them in a family environment? I wonder if we may eventually lose the desire to palm off some of our own responsibilities for our own children and youth to the local council as we realise that in tough times our councils may no longer be held responsible for their care or entertainment?
Some may view this as a regressive step, but surely a realignment of moral duties and social responsibility may lead to more rather than less social cohesion as the strength of the nuclear family increases, and allow local councils to concentrate on core demands such as education, housing, planning, waste management, and roads. If central government could manage to reduce the load of “moral duties” attributable to local councils then a reduction in local government spending could become more comfortable for households to accept, so long as we all know that we have our own moral responsibilities and duties to perform. We should all take a leaf out of the book of life of South Tyneside’s leaders, and keep our mothers firmly by our side!
Pickles apparently is a believer in localism and devolving more power and responsibility to householders must surely be one of his aims if local government is to become leaner and fitter for purpose. Alternatively you may believe the man is a fool who talks out of the top of his hat, and that his stance is completely at odds with hundreds of local councils who will revert to huge council tax rises as soon as central government brings the current “freeze” to an end.
Pickles at least is having some success in reducing the expenditure of his own department, the use of tax payer funded credit cards by his civil servants wining and dining at the best restaurants and hotels has been wickedly curtailed as Sir Humphrey and friends are now to be found visiting their local MacDonalds for lunch:
“Quarter pounder with fries to go please – and NO Pickles with that!”