Councils must fight austerity


From: Paul Woolmer

Wannock Drive, Polgate

The upcoming increases in council tax are wholly down to the ever decreasing central government grants to local authorities.

Those grants are funded by our taxes in their many forms. So the continual reduction in grants under the name of ‘austerity’ (Chancellor Osborne in 2010) leaves our local authorities, police, fire services and others desperately short of funds.

In an effort to make up the shortfalls all of those organisations have annually increased their precept (capped to 2 per cent unless changed by referendum).

Glaringly obvious to many, that local taxes have not been sufficient to plug the ever widening gap and the consequence is the 2 per cent cap without referendum has been increased to 3 per cent and on top of that an additional 3 per cent precept for social care can be added (Minister Javid 2018). Therefore a total 5.9 per cent increase in council tax for 2018/19. In essence, an ever increasing local population, a greater demand on services, particularly social services and police, both of which have reduced workforces, and despite some claims, are not coping as they used to do.

So how did we get into this mess? Basically bad management by successive governments, Labour borrowed too much and, Conservatives in a failed attempt at austerity - we are still £50+ billion in the red with a national debt over £160+ billion. What has the billions not paid to local authorities been used for? PFI’s, outsourcing contracts which ultimately cost far more than in-house workforces, a Labour idea, pursued with gusto by Conservatives.

Whilst public sector pay rises were capped at 1 per cent in 2010 until 2020, MPs were awarded 10 per cent in 2015, 1.4 per cent in 2017 and due 1.8 per cent this year. The 1 per cent public sector cap now removed two years early. County councillors also benefitting with an impressive salary increases. But of course 10 per cent of anything relies on the base figure, hence the phrase, ‘I started with nothing and I’ve still got all of it’.

I imagine that in this geographical area most will not be earning the UK annual average salary of £27,500 and with many pensioners in the marginal income these local tax increases may be tough.

Perhaps our Tory led councils, county, district and parish should follow the Northamptonshire example and attack the austerity of central government. Will they? To quote in political speak, ‘Let me be quite clear on this, NO’. Cronyism rules. Oh, and before any accusations fly, I am totally apolitical, a good idea is a good idea from whichever quarter it comes in my book. It’s a very thin book.