Another hidden tax on the council taxpayer is set to increase

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
LGA calls on chancellor to freeze landfill tax
7 March, 2014 | By Chris Smith

The chancellor has been urged to freeze the landfill tax as part of this month’s budget by council leaders.

Ahead of George Osbourne’s keynote speech on 19 March, the LGA claimed landfill tax had achieved its purpose and warned any increase would punish hard-pressed families.

Mr Osborne was urged to keep landfill tax at its present rate of £72 per tonne and to redistribute revenue to local taxpayers.

The tax, paid by businesses, is set to increase to £80 per tonne in April and the money raised goes into central government funding.

The LGA warned the costs would be passed by on to residents and claimed each household would pay £30 towards landfill tax in 2014-15.

Mike Jones (Con), chair of the LGA’s environment and housing board, said: “Instead of using the receipts from the tax to boost recycling technologies and reward residents for the gains made in recycling levels, the Treasury has held on to receipts. We need a clear indication from the chancellor that this tax will be frozen at its present rate, with the money raised from it returned to taxpayers and invested in growth.”

Don’t get misled by the facts

There’s a piece in the latest Local Government Association (LGA) First magazine, that could easily prove extremely misleading to elected members, given that it suggests that, despite all the budget cuts and threats to services, councils’ are doing okay.

The article is actually extracted from something written Neil Wholey, Head of Research and Customer Insight at Westminster City Council – whatever that is, the job, not the council. Whilst the piece may not be inaccurate in any way, the author obviously knows his stuff and the facts are the facts, it’s certainly likely to offer a misleading picture to those who, when reading it, don’t bother to separate out the elements that make up a council.

As a LGA publication, it’s difficult not to see the magazine as primarily a vehicle for communicating with elected members, as opposed to the professionals and this where the misleading bit begins.  The article called, Residents’ Views, tells the reader that, despite all the hardships being visited on taxpayers by government, local government’s reputation is doing surprisingly well.

I’ve no reason to doubt what the author is saying when it comes to public opinion, especially if the questions were asked in a way that avoids any reference to the politics of the council.  The problem comes when an elected member reads this and either misses, or completely ignores, the basis on which the questions were asked.  The public are expressing a view of their experience of the council, not the councillors.

I wonder what the answer would have been if, instead of asking, ‘overall do you think the council is providing good services in your area?’ they had asked, ‘how well do you think the (insert political group name as appropriate) are running your local council?’.  By inserting politics into the question, you immediately invite a biased response, based on the politics of the person being asked the question. Taken a step further, even if the council is performing well, the fact that it is controlled by one, or other of the political parties, will be far more influential when it comes to an election, than any public satisfaction survey, however rosy a picture it paints.

 

My point is, that any politician reading this and taking it at face value, could be in danger of deluding themselves in to thinking that taxpayer satisfaction with ‘the council’, is the same as satisfaction with ‘the councillors’.

A town council for Spalding?

As request here are some intial thoughts on the question of a council for Spalding.  To start the ball rolling, I have reproduced an entry I made in January 2008.

Spalding Special Expenses – Here we go again!

We had a special meeting of the cabinet today, mainly to approve various financial papers.  One of these was a consultation document on the Draft General Fund Revenue (GF) account.  Just like all things financial in local government, including the names they call things (GF!) the information (sorry data, information suggests useful data that makes sense!) is pretty impenetrable, unless you happen to be an accountant.  In my case, having the numeracy skills of a flip flop doesn’t help, so I’m normally the one asking the stupid questions.  Anyway, one of the items in the document was the Spalding Special Expenses and this is the prompt for my latest ramblings.

Spalding doesn’t have a parish or town council, but it does have the equivalent of a parish precept called Spalding Special Expenses (SSE).  This amount makes up a very small part of a Spalding resident’s council tax bill, but actually generates a great deal of debate at this time of year.  The proposed increase this year is about 4.17% or 1.6p a week, making the average total SSE this year £21.49.  Chicken feed most people would say, but even a small amount collected from a lot of people adds up to quite a bit of money (approx £183,000).   However, the underlying issue is how this figure is arrived at, who decides it and what it should be spent on.

The final decision rests with the district council, because Spalding doesn’t have a parish or town council and this is where the debate really gets going.  We have a Spalding Town Forum made up of elected members and some local organisation representatives.  However, it has no executive powers and can only make recommendations to the district council, which can of course choose to ignore them.

Should Spalding have a parish/town council?  I joined the district council in May 99 believing that Spalding should indeed have its own council, after all, how could so many people, 22,000+ then, be so under-represented compared to all of out smaller towns and villages?  However, now that I’ve doing this for a while, I’m less sure of the merits of this, especially when it comes to unravelling the finances, setting it up and paying the admin costs.  A major cost would be employing a clerk in the same way parishes do.  How much? £10k, £15k, £20k, who knows until it actually happens?  Finding a place to call home (an office) could cost anything from £2k to £10k.

What will the people of Spalding get for their money if they had a town council?  Apart from direct control over some very limited areas of council business, maintenance of Spalding Cemetery, Monks house Lane, Hailey Stewart and the provision of Christmas decorations to name a few, not a great deal as it stands!  However, once you have a parish or town council, theoretically the sky’s the limit (that’s a scary thought in itself).  

So, as far as I’m concerned the jury is still very much out on this issue and given the lack of feedback from the public of Spalding, I think it’s going to remain out for some time to come! 

If you want to know more about the issue of creating a parish/town council see: http://www.nalc.gov.uk/About_NALC/What_is_a_parish_or_town_council/What_is_a_council.aspx

Spalding Special Expenses Account –  Published for consultation purposes

  

 

Original 2007/08

  

Draft 2008/09

  

  

  

 

Budget

  

Budget

  

Variance

 

 

£

 

£

 

£

SpaldingCemetery  (see note 1)

 

45,280

 

47,170

 

1,890

Spalding Allotments

 

9,720

 

11,600

 

1,880

   Ayscoughfee (excluding gardens)

 

6,470

 

7,240

 

770

   Halley Stewart (see note 1)

 

31,150

 

41,330

 

10,180

  Thames Road(see note 2)

 

11,990

 

8,430

 

(3,560)

  Fulney Road

 

9,120

 

9,550

 

430

  Monkshouse Lane(see note 3)

 

21,260

 

26,010

 

4,760

Contribution to Voluntary Car Scheme

 

7,700

 

8,000

 

300

Christmas Decorations

 

16,260

 

17,400

 

1,140

Contrib. StMary & StNicolasParishChurch

 

650

 

680

 

30

Contribution to footway lighting (note 4)

 

2,030

 

0

 

(2,030)

Administrative Support

 

3,630

 

3,740

 

110

Bus Shelter maintenance

 

410

 

410

 

0

Spalding Town Centre Promotion (see note 5)

 

4,000

 

2,000

 

(2,000)

Crime prevention (see note 6)

 

2,000

 

0

 

(2,000)

Total Expenditure

  

171,660

  

183,560

  

11,900

Funding

To be funded from Council Tax

 

171,660

 

183,560

 

  

Tax Base

 

8,320

 

8,540

 

  

Band D equivalent

 

20.63

 

21.49

 

  

Council Tax Increase                                                 

 

3.06%

 

4.17%

 

 

  

Balance Brought Forward

 

 

 

2007/08

 

2008/09

 

 

 

 

(36,000)

 

(36,000)

Earmarked for crime prevention

 

 

 

 

 

12,880

Agreed minimum balance 5% expenditure for contingency

 

 

 

8,580

 

9,180

Available Balance

 

 

 

(27,420)

 

 (13,940)

Notes

1. Tree works for Halley Stewart and the Cemetery have been estimated at £3,000 and £8,000 respectively.

2.  A spiking machine for the grounds (£6,000) has been added to Halley Stewart Playing Field.

3.  Maintenance of the Pavilion at Monks House and Legionella testing (£3,900) has been added  to the playing field budget.

4. The budget provision for footway lighting has been removed, since no new lights are currently being planned.

5. The Town Centre promotion budget has been reduced to £2,000, so that the spiking machine can be funded this year and council tax increases maintained.

6. The Crime Prevention budget has been reduced to nil for 2008/09 and balances will be used, should the Herring Lane Car park income not be sufficient to pay for the maintenance of CCTV.  In prior years this budget has not been called upon.

Household refuse collection- no longer a right?

Most councils are struggling to balance their books at the moment and are seeking to cut back expenditure in those areas they hope the taxpayers will find acceptable. Many councils have chosen to cut weekly refuse cllections and collect fortnightly instead.

Our own council has always seen weekly refuse collections as something local taxpayers value highly and is therefore one of our top priorities. It was therefore incredible to see Rossendale council in Lancashire, proposing to actually stop collecting refuse all together from hundreds of the rural properties in their district.

If you ask most people, what does your local council do? Their answer would almost always be, empty the bins. It was particularly disappointing to hear a local councillor (albeit Labour) trotting out a bureaucratic justification, ‘we are obliged to collect the refuse, but not necessarily from the dwelling’. It’s extremely poor politics to directly associate yourself with such an unpopular decision by the use of ‘we’, it clearly demonstrates a lack of empathy, let alone sympathy, with the effected residents. Unless of course you are indeed in full and enthusiastic agreement with the decision!

On that basis, if all residents are to be required to manage their own refuse collections in some way or another, as in the case of Rossendale, one has to ask how much longer the council itself would last?

Once a council drops off of the radar of local people, by failing to maintain such a basic as refuse collection, then it surely won’t be long before a local referendum appears demanding that their local council be scrapped altogether.