Saturday, 22 October 2011

Council Tax - how the Tory Government is holding a gun to head of town halls up and down the country

Yesterday Local Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald had the nerve to ask the Leader of the Council Bill Randall whether he'd be accepting Government cash to freeze Council Tax for the next year - even though doing so would cost the council about £3m a year for ever more.

To my mind, this is about more than about an argument over one year's Council Tax settlement in one city - it's about a fundamental principle: whether local councils should be able to make their own decisions, informed, of course, by a local democratic mandate, about how much money to raise - and spend on protecting the most vulnerable from the impact of the cuts.

Basically, the Government's offer to fund a one-year Council Tax freeze is an attempt to hold a gun to the head of town halls up and down the country by making them a bit of a lose-lose offer: hand control of you financial decision-making to us, and set yourself up for even deeper cuts in the future, or else we'll tell everyone that you're imposing unnecessary tax rises on local residents to make a point of principle.

The fact is that, as far as we know so far, the Government's offer is for one year only  - this means that, after inflation, the council tax base (the total amount of council tax collected by the council) will be 2.5% lower in every future year. In Brighton and Hove, that'll mean about £3m worth of EXTRA cuts we'll have to make in every future year - just to stand still.

That means there will be job losses - and service cuts - as a direct result of taking the cash.

Of course, Council Tax bills would be slightly cheaper next year, but that windfall wouldn't be felt at all by the thousands in receipt of Council Tax benefit, and it would be largest for those living in the most valuable properties in the city - usually (but not always, of course) the best off.

In other words, it would represent a transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest in the city: a classic Tory tax wheeze.

Of course a council committed to reducing inequality - and protecting the most vulnerable from the impact of the cuts the Government is unnecessarily forcing on us - couldn't possibly countenance such a thing.

But of course the Tory spin-machine will describe this as ideology costing local taxpayers cash.

In other words, we'll be the bad guys whatever we decide! Clever politics indeed.

Of course, we're not the only council facing this issue, and I'm delighted that others have made similar arguments - and that, localy, it looks like the Labour group will be directed by their national political masters to support our position.

An interesting debate looms on the horizon, that's for sure...

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