Posts Tagged ‘Council Tax’
Ed Malcolm suggests it’s a Labour proposal
After years and years of doing nothing else but raising the level of Council Tax in South Tyneside (a real burden for the few who have to pay it), Ed Malcolm suggests in the Shields Gazette that the local Labour Party now want to freeze it!!
The council is aware that residents are suffering in this difficult financial climate, so we are proposing to freeze council tax in South Tyneside, so that our residents have one less pressure on already overstretched household budgets
Absolute poppycock Ed and you know it!
It is bad enough listening to our local Labour council vilifying the Conservative Party and the Lib-Dems for “cutting” expenditure (at a time when public expenditure and borrowing is still on the way up), but to then claim some sort of credit for a tax freeze, stretches the bounds of credibility. Until the chips were down Ed and his brother Iain didn’t have a clue how to reduce spending locally, every year when they asked the electorate about council tax in some sort of spin consultation, the choice was between rise a, b, c, or d! Never any offer of a freeze or reduction, that is, until the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition forced it upon them.
The freeze has been imposed across the UK by central Government, which is offering councils a “reward” payment in compensation. South Tyneside will get £1.45m.
No apologies either for the economic mess that their party left behind nationally, neither does he mention that things would have been equally tough if Labour had returned to power in Westminster last year, no reminders about the huge spending cuts that Alistair Darling had lined up. Ed Malcolm made no conciliatory warnings before the last election that South Tyneside Council would have to cut it’s cloth with very large scissors – why?
More than likely because he regards the majority of us as pure mugs; the vast majority of council tax payers and South Tyneside Homes tenants do not pay full rent or council tax, rises hardly affect them at all, those on benefits hardly feel this particular cold blast of economic reality. No – it is the small minority who do not receive benefits who feel the weight upon their shoulders, but the Malcolms know that come election time that small number is still likely to be in the minority when the ballot boxes are emptied.
We mugs all have terrible memories, we cannot remember more than a few weeks back, so it’s safe for Ed to start bashing the evil wicked Tories, it’s all their fault for messing things up, and the Labour Party kindly offered you a tax freeze to soften the blow.
Pass the sick bag.
Christine Melsom analyses the current political muddle
Christine writes this guest post on behalf of Is It Fair?, the campaign for the reform of Council Tax
What will happen to Council Tax after the next general election?
The Labour position.
Labour is still wedded to Council Tax.
If they get back in again it is probable – indeed likely – that there will be a property revaluation. This could be disastrous for Council Tax payers. Rather than push general taxation higher (to try to sort out the mess they have got the country into), they will dump as much as possible onto local government and let them take the blame.
The revaluation in Wales was trumpeted as being “revenue-neutral” i.e. the revaluation would not result in any more, or any less, Council Tax being collected: it would just be a redistribution to make the whole thing “fairer”. What they said was that 25% of Council Tax payers would see an increase; 25% would see a decrease and 50% would be unaffected.
What actually happened was that the revaluation ALONE resulted in 9% more Council Tax being demanded. Only 8% ended up paying less, and 32% ended up having to pay more. Some had to pay a LOT more, which is why they also had to bring in a “transitional relief” scheme where people who were bumped up several bands were bumped up one Council Tax band per year until they ended up in what was considered to be the correct band.
If the same revaluation exercise here in England goes the way the revaluation went in Wales – and bearing in mind this government has a record of not learning from past mistakes – the majority of us would end up out of pocket.
And would they also do away with the capping regime?
The Conservative position
The Conservatives also are still wedded to Council Tax. They have said that if they end up with a majority and form the next government, any increase in Council Tax – provided it is not more than 2.5% – will be reimbursed from general taxation for two years – meaning that Council Tax payers will not see an increase in their bills for two years. They are selling this as a Council Tax freeze for two years (which it really isn’t) but – what happens in the third year? Will we see an increase in Council Tax of 5% (actually 5.0625% compounded) – plus whatever the councils think they can get away with in year three?
And – unless we have missed it – the Conservatives have said nothing about how the 2.5% will be calculated, but we understand that this “freeze deal” will apply to each individual precept (County Council, District Council, Police and Fire Authorities).
The Conservatives have also said they would not go ahead with a property revaluation for council tax purposes – but that they would do away with the existing capping regime. They are in favour of the greater use of local referendums to help guide decisions. They claim they will make the local government funding settlement more transparent.
The Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems still seem to favour a local income tax and/or a land-value tax. Even though they haven’t any chance of becoming the party of government, they may have some influence if there is hung Parliament and if they cosy up to one or other of the two main parties in some cobbled-together coalition.
And – the fringe parties (Greens, UKIP and others – even the BNP) – could have an influence on the make up of the next parliament if it is close-run thing between Labour and Conservative.
Town / Parish precepts
None of the parties has mentioned anything about correcting the anomaly that allows town / parish councils to increase their share of the council tax bill (their precept) by more than the cap that applies to other, higher, authorities.
Being well aware that the cap does not apply to towns and parishes, a growing number of higher-level councils (County/District/Borough/City) are starting to off-load some of their non-statutory duties onto towns and parishes in their area – but keeping the money that they would have had to spend on these duties.
This off-loading has meant that many town and parish precepts have rocketed such that, in a growing number of cases, the amount demanded by the town/parish is as much as, or even more than, the amount demanded by the district/borough council.
In a Green paper in 2000, and in another document issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2002, the current government has admitted that this off-loading can also lead to double taxation, in that householders can be charged twice for the same services.
So – even though the current government have been aware of this possible double-taxation business for 10 years, and have issued Green Papers and other reports about it, neither they, nor any of the other parties, has said anything about putting a stop to it.
The two main aims of Is It Fair are:
- The fair distribution of Government Grants to all Local Authorities
- Replace the present Council Tax system with one that is based on ability to pay (from disposable income)
Although the issue of Council Tax and local government funding are unlikely to be high on anyone’s agenda as we go into the general election campaign, it is clear to see that local government funding from central sources will come under increasing pressure for reduction as the next government struggles with the budget deficit. The great danger, if the current system continues, in the years after the general election, is that some local authorities will attempt to maintain services at current levels or above and pile the additional costs not centrally funded directly on to their council tax payers. The greatest reform required will be in the mindsets of elected councillors who must face up to the fact that money will not be available for every project that they would wish for, and that their local residents here in South Tyneside and beyond will be looking for lower cost services with higher value, efficiency, less “empire building” by extremely well paid officials, and a lower tax local economy geared for growth, as this writer to The Shields Gazette almost alludes to.
…manages to FREEZE council tax
Before thae mandatory back slapping begins in South Tyneside after our Labour council has announced it’s lowest ever RISE in council tax, shall we compare them to a few Conservative councils, particularly those within the Greater London area which have their own inner city problems to deal with as well as larger precepts from the Mayor of London’s Office.
Labour in South Tyneside probably feels self congratulatory at present with it’s 2.9% announced council tax rise, but Conservative controlled Westminster, which has also been awarded four star status for the past seven years, has announced that it is freezing council tax for the forthcoming year. With a Band D charge of £377.80 for Westminster plus £309.82 for the Mayor of London’s precept it will be just fractionally ahead of Wandsworth who have the lowest Council Tax in the Britain.
Conservative-led Hounslow Council are also freezing their Council Tax again.
Conservative controlled Hammersmith and Fulham reduced council tax yet again by another 3%, cutting costs, spending, and borrowing along the way – council leader’s speech here. With £12m worth of savings they were able to reduce council tax for the third year in a row.
Wandsworth council has frozen it’s council tax and Ealing and Hillingdon have done so too, see here.
So, as you can see, with some extra hard work and application, and if you read how Hammersmith and Fulham managed it, some imagination and “out of the box” thinking, it is entirely possible to trim fat from budgets, reduce costs, reduce borrowing, and REDUCE COUNCIL TAX without causing a great deal of harm to essential services.
Unite leader enjoys luxury lifestyle on members subscriptions
There was consternation and discontent within South Tyneside Council on Thursday when Conservative David Potts suggested that tax payers’ money could be saved by not paying that portion of a trades union representatives wage when they are actually working for the union instead of the council. It was branded as an attack on trades unions and their members.
Perhaps some council members should read up on how the subscriptions of trades unionists are used to feather the rather large and comfortable nests of their elected leaders. Guido is revealing today how Unite’s Derek Simpson is enjoying the very best of conditions at his members’ expense:
Simpson is not satisfied with his annual £150,000 package, nor his £800,000 grace and favour union house. He stays weekdays at the Waldorf, despite living a mere half-an-hour from the office. “Nothing is too good for the workers” they say. Derek Simpson enjoys the use of a luxury suite that usually rents for £500 a night. Unite, his union, is Labour’s biggest paymaster.
If our trades unions can afford to pay for this luxury lifestyle then surely they should not be complaining if they are asked to fork out 20 hours per week towards a shop steward’s wage at the council?
…and other ways for councils to hang on to your money.
I managed to squeeze in some of yesterday afternoon’s meeting of South Tyneside Council in South Shields Town Hall and how tedious the whole affair was, As I expected Labour’s plans to increase our council taxes yet again were passed by a huge majority, primarily because most of the opposition parties don’t want to save your money, they’d rather carry on wasting it. The Independent Alliance, the Real Independents, the Progressives, and the Liberal Democrats came to the meeting with nothing, they hadn’t even bothered to scrutinise Labour’s budget proposals and had no alternatives of their own, it was shameful, and I guess the only reason thaqt they couldn’t be bothered to provide reasonable responsible opposition is because they aren’t facing any elections this year.
So it fell to Cllr. David Potts and the small Conservative group to propose the only amendment to Labour’s plans with their scheme to freeze council tax as revealed here yesterday. It was a worthy plan which received some “sympathy” but not wholehearted support from sections of the council, including Progressive leader Cllr. Jim Capstick and Labour leader Cllr. Iain Malcolm, who were both happy to consign parts of the Tory plans to committees with promises of consideration and an earlier start in formulating next years budget – wow!
However, it was the bumbling, stumbling, waffling nonsense from some on the Labour benches which caught the attention in what had the potential to turn into an ugly bad tempered debate, but I guess the fuse was damp. Cllr. Ed Malcolm Labour’s chairman of the finance committee, or whatever fancy title it goes by these days, was pathetic and embarrassing with his Kosygin like ability to pick a hundred words and fail to put them together with any coherance, he clearly has no command of his brief, and sideways glances to a council officer every now and then to recieve an approving nod betrayed his inability to present the case effectively. The people of Houghton and Washington East will sleep easily in their beds with the knowledge that there is no danger of him performing on their behalf in the House of Commons.
There were two main sets of proposals in the Conservative amendment which rankled the dinosaurs within our councl, the first set primarily was to save a small fortune on printing, stationery, publicity, and distribution costs, something which inevitable would not hurt service users, and the second was to make savings in the roles of trades union officials which turned out to be a red rag to the bull of Labour’s sensibilities.
There are a few important points for the council to consider as it moves towards it’s next elections in 2010 and what level of council tax it sets then, the first we should look at is the council’s propaganda pamphlet magazine “on View” which costs us around £80,000 per year. They have a legal and statutory duty to inform and consult with the borough’s residents, but that need not get in the way of looking for cheaper or more effective ways of doing it. “On View” could be reduced to two editions per year without anyone complaining, it could be printed on cheaper paper of a poorer quality without affecting it’s content, it could be self financing if they could persuade enough local businesses to advertise in it, or it could be abolished altogether. We have a well staffed propapganda press office in the town hall who are very adept at spinning Labour’s words, they could carry on preaching the gospel to local newspapers and radio stations, as well as filling the council’s website with news articles, they also have that pretty mundane and awful, ST Central TV service squawking away in public buildings, as another outlet for council information. Conclusion, consultation and information could be provided effectively at a much reduced cost.
The move towards a paperless office just isn’t going to happen according to Cllrs. Ed Malcolm and Jim Perry, but why should we take their words for it? I’d hate to think how many forests are destroyed and how much CO2 is emitted in the production of the mountains of paper needed JUST to service councillors. In this modern technological age, when private companies are being almost forced to reduce paper and waste, why our council cannot go down the same route is an absolute mystery. All council reports, minutes, agendas, and papers for the Members Library could be provided exclusively online via the website, with a PVN server for members to log in to view restricted information, and they could then decide, at home, to print only those parts which they considered to be totally necessary. Cllr. Perry has already decided that he needs the three thousand odd pieces of paper that the council’s courier service delivers to his door five nights a week, he should be taken outside and forced to break stones or do other hard labour as a punishment for his extravagant waste of resources.
We, the tax payer, provide expensive and comprehensive training for our councillors to utilise technology, we provide them with laptops and Blackberries at our expense, we connect their homes at our expense. If Cllr. Perry and his Labour colleagues prefer to carry on using dinosaur methods on reams of paper then we should remove the laptops and Blackberries, they are obviously NOT using them! How much money would that save? The Conservative plan would produce savings of £1.4m per year, not to be sniffed at.
Finally, the thorny problem of trade union representatives employed at our expense. Yes they are needed, yes they are elected by their members to represent their interests, yes they provide an excellent means of effective two way communication and consultation and employee protection, BUT, as I was discussing with a former factory manager last night, they are less than productive for the organisation when much of their time is consumed by trades union duties. Their unions levy subscriptions from their membership which garners £millions annually, a fair bit of which ends up in the Labour Party’s coffers by the way, and so we should feel no guilt in allowing them to continue providing their services but request that the trades unions pay (pro rata) the wages of the council employees who have been elected as union officials. I see no reason at all why South Tyneside’s council tax payers should foot the bill for work which is not directly producing results on our behalf, work done on behalf of the union should be paid for by the union. Hey this is 2009 not 1909!
Perhaps the wording of the Conservative amendment was ill thought out (cease to employ staff to be trade union officials), legally this cannot be achieved, but cost savings can be achieved, it’s a tough decision of course and may seem hard nosed, but the council has to be seen to run itself in a business like manner.
I thought there was much to commend in the Conservatives budget plan as it would produce the savings needed to ensure NO RISE AT ALL in council tax and would result in no loss of services, no school closures, no change to community centres, adult learning, street cleaning, etc. etc. Just a simple and effective way of saving money that pours easily away without being noticed. Just a shame that others didn’t seem keen on change and prefer to continue with wasteful policies, the other opposition parties should be ashamed that they brought no proposals of their own, and that they appear willing to carry on burning our money on Labour’s bonfire of vanities.
Cabinet agrees figure to put to full council
I guess we just now have to wait and see if any of our opposition parties in South Tyneside can conjure up some imaginative yet serious ways of trimming another £10m off council spending in such a manner that looks responsible and unlikely to cause riots in the streets. I could applaud the Labour Party for producing a record low rise, since that is how they are spinning it, but I won’t, a rise is a rise, on top of every annual rise we’ve had since council taxes were introduced. We have known nothing other than council tax increases in this borough and to tell us that this is the lowest rise that Labour has ever produced just insults the intelligence.
On top of that each succeeding year has seen a rise in council spending with never any thought of just stopping for a while and putting the breaks on hard and fast. One has to ask the questions, just how much suffering would really be caused by working towards a spend and tax freeze? How much revenue could be raised by further partnerships and selling of promotional space? How much could be saved by further outsourcing of services?
Sorry guys, we elect councillors to come up with these ideas, I’ds best leave it to them and see if they are up to the job.
Without massively affecting services
Councillor Harry Phibbs offers advice on how to cut Council Tax, some ideas are a bit cookie and confused such as cutting the cost of translations (particularly in areas of the country that need them most), and I don’t agree with all of them, but there are many others worthy of consideration.
I wonder if South Tyneside Council would be prepared to look at any of them over the next twelve months before we face Local Government elections in 2010. I particularly like the idea of trying to place post offices in libraries, for instance, and scrapping “nanny state” posts.