Posted tagged ‘council tax’

Eric Pickles is at it again

May 30, 2012

Ever the politician

It has been a while since the mighty Eric Pickles has raised the ire of the WLLG team. This has not been for want of trying. Mr Pickles’ latest thoughts of multi-culturalism raised a curious eyebrow, his entreaty to business people to work harder made us wonder if he had simply forgotten he wasn’t talking about local government that day, his re-announcement of the business rates changes mildly distracted us, and his obsession with street parties and flags keeping us amused if not informed.

But whilst Mr Pickles might have been characteristically provocative in his speech (something which we actually value here at WLLG) the simple fact is that the DCLG has somewhat run out of policies, ideas and general announcements. Even the Queens Speech was a largely DCLG free zone.

All this was to change on Monday. With what announcement did the DCLG choose to make the political running you may ask? Well, this:

New council tax help for hard-working families and pensioners

Good news you might think and as the press release continues we find out that:

These reforms could allow councils to make up to a £20 reduction in the bill for a typical Band D property in England, or hold bills down by the same amount.

Amongst some sensible reforms (finally, individuals can pay their council tax over 12 equal instalments ending the ‘put it all into 10 months’ nonsense) the Government was particularly keen to emphasise this £20 reduction they are freeing up local authorities to provide through their technical changes. This money is freed up by giving:

Councils greater local flexibility to choose to waive special tax relief on second homes and empty homes, allowing councils to use the monies to keep the overall rate of council tax down. This would allow a £20 saving on a Band D council tax bill for ordinary families. There will be no requirement for councils to make any changes, if they do not wish.

So, why on earth did this seemingly innocuous announcement raise the ire of the WLLG team?

Well, it was the sheer bare-faced cheek of it.


(Local) tax needn’t be (but is) taxing

March 14, 2012

10 Points!

Like many people up and down the country we received our council tax bill this week. What was strange about it is that it was higher than last year’s bill. This was despite our local council taking their share of Eric Pickles’ council tax freeze grant and thus promising their residents a 0% increase in council tax.

So, what happened to our council tax bill?

Well, the police and fire service happened.

The Conservative Government have promised residents that they will not pay any more council tax and have emotionally blackmailed local authorities to ensure that councils mortgaged their financial future to deliver on this promise. Unfortunately, local tax is so complicated that despite Mr Pickles’ bluster it was going to be very difficult to actually freeze the amount we would all pay. Chief among those challenges was the police precept.

The police precept is a funny thing. The average member of the public would probably feel quite pleased about the cost of it; after all it is a lot smaller than the amount we pay for our local council tax. As with council tax this is all a mirage. The police precept no more pays for the police than the council tax plays for council services.

The precept is funny in many ways. Unlike other taxes it is raised not by councillors or senior politicians but by unelected police boards that supposedly represent the local community but in reality are of marginal importance in local democratic life. The Government do recognise this and the move to elected police commissioners is meant to provide some democratic accountability.



January 30, 2012

Keeping a Straight Face

‘Right Eric, I have had enough. When you and your acolytes have been purposefully dishonest about local government services I am fine to disagree. When you slash our budgets and then blame local government for closing services I can understand that this is politics. But when you have the bare-faced cheek and total lack of integrity to attack council officers for giving impartial advice that you disagree with I have simply had it.

Pickles, I’m calling you out!’

So started what was going to be an epic rant about Eric Pickles’ latest salvo in the war about the council tax grant.

For those who missed it Mr Pickles said the following:

‘Particularly to finance officers, there is a danger here of being involved in politics, in a way. There is a referendum [trigger], and to suddenly find yourself mysteriously arriving in that place between zero and where you have to face the electorate is a highly political decision.

To put it another way I’m happy to use the headline from the Public Finance magazine:

‘Don’t meddle with council tax freeze’, Pickles warns FDs

As you imagine what especially annoyed me about this is that Mr Pickles had just tried to drag officers into the debate about council tax. He should know better. Much like civil servants local government officers are, especially at the level of finance director, politically neutral.

However, I took a deep breath and decided that having a Monday post upset with Mr Pickles two weeks in a row was the beginning of an unhealthy obsession; and continuing that rant was going to be bad for my blood pressure.


Morally Deficient?

January 23, 2012

Eric being moral?

We’re not really the sort of people who have New Year’s resolutions but when the excellent Guardian Local Government Network asked us to name one we said that we were going to be nicer to Eric Pickles in 2012. And you know what; we meant it.

Unfortunately, much like the diet, alcohol ban, gym attendance and intention to spend less money on cheesy Wotsits this New Year’s resolution has not made it to February.

So what caused our feelings towards Mr Pickles to turn so rapidly? Before showing the headline it is probably worth reminding people that Mr Pickles has offered every council money equivalent to a 2.5% increase in council tax and in return the council has to commit not to increase their tax this year. So back to our outrage…

One headline can sum it up:

Councils have ‘moral duty’ on tax – Eric Pickles.

A moral duty?!? As in this is an absolute? As in this is correct and any other interpretation is thus immoral?

Are you kidding me?


Council Tax Conundrum

October 4, 2011

Do not pass go but we'll give you £72

After feeling rather hard done by over the past few weeks as first the Liberal Democrats and then the Labour Party more or less ignored Local Government at their party conferences the Conservatives have sought to redress the balance and then some in the first few days of their conference. What’s more, announcements about council tax, waste and the right to buy have come before Mr Pickles has even had his moment in the conference spotlight.

Despite being pleased about the rightful focus on local government, alongside the many other important issues discussed, over the past few days the local government announcements have left me feeling a little conflicted. The policy on weekly waste collection was ridiculous and the policy on right to buy and house building is a classic ‘devil is in the detail’ announcement. Which leaves council tax and on this I can’t help but feel a little let down.

First the positive news:

  • The Government is providing local councils with over £800 million. This money is new money.
  • Many councillors were feeling very twitchy about raising council tax this year and it is entirely possible that a 2.5% increase is more than many councils would have got had the decision been left to the councillors.

So far so good.

However, let’s not pretend that a 2.5% increase makes much of a difference to the council budget.

(Here comes the science bit)


Where do the wealthy pay more tax?

April 18, 2011

The newsnight slayer

The Department of Communities and Local Government has, under Eric Pickles, been very keen to ensure that there is a regular stream of ‘open’ data to help the public get a deeper understanding of what their politicians are up to. Indeed, his very openness made the BBCs Gavin Estler look extremely silly on Newsnight.

However, on the same day that Mr Pickles was having fun at the expense of the BBC research staff, his department also released the latest open data attempt; a map summarising how much council tax is paid in each area of the UK. The map is shown below and for those without chronic short-sight you can see a full sized version here:

The map clearly shows that those areas that are populated by wealthy people are paying more council tax.

Aha, might say those in favour of council cuts; the areas that are the most wealthy, and paying the highest council taxes, are also those that received the smallest cuts. See, I told you it was fair.

Except, that’s not what the map shows at all.


Schapp Attack

January 11, 2011

Is he really helping here?

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Councils using stealth taxes and raising charges in order to pay for the salaries of their Chief Execs and other senior managers.  Normally I would ignore such things as the tripe that they are, but over the weekend and the beginning of this week some fairly big names have waded into the debate.

On Monday I heard Grant Shapps discussing this on BBC London, and listened to him trot out this and other lines such as how local authorities should need to do nothing more than a bit of restructuring to save the 4.5%.  He happily glossed over the fact that many Councils are facing a cut of much more than this, with some having to make 8.9% this year and then keep on cutting until they’ve saved over 25% over the next few years.

He then spouted the old faithful: “how many chief execs earn more than the Prime Minister”.  We’ve spoken about this ridiculous argument before, but it seems to be the default position when it comes to anything to do with money and local authorities.  This arbitrarily set wannabe high-water mark should be something that the Daily Express came up with and championed, but instead it appears to have gained traction with the impressionable masses.

The trouble with all of this talk is that it paints local government in a universally bad light.  Central government seems to be positioning itself to blame local government should anything go wrong, and in examining the pay of a handful of executives has a quick and easy tag line to stand behind.  They ignore the fact that even if these execs went down to a fraction of what they earned, this still wouldn’t even make a dent in the amount that has to be saved and would be nothing more than a political statement.