Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Case For The Council Tax Freeze

If you look at the media, the case for the lifting of the current Council Tax freeze is irresistible.  Even one of Scotland’s leading bloggers, Jeff SNP TV,  has said that Iain Gray is right when he called for the scrapping of the Council Tax freeze.  Glasgow City Council’s main argument is that if the freeze is not lifted, then front-line services will be at risk of being eroded, or worse, axed altogether.

This has not stopped Glasgow City Council from indulging in its own cuts process.  Already, key council services have been spun off into “Arm’s length” businesses, with councillors reported to have received a share of some £400,000.  At the same time, Glasgow City Council was undertaking a school closure programme, which affected 2000 children.  I would have though that council services should have received more money, while councillors and heads of service show an example and take a pay cut.  With such largesse on show for the councillors, you would have thought that the person running Glasgow City Council at that point was on drugs or something.

It’s not just Glasgow City Council that is hoping that the green light for Council Tax increases will cover up past and current mistakes.  One of the interesting nuggets to come from the Independent Budget Review is the figure £800 million.  This is an estimate of the amount that all of Scotland’s local authorities will pay this year servicing their PFI/PPP debts.  In effect that is an estimated £800 million disappearing from Local Authorities budgets, never to be seen again.  No wonder there are problems with finding work for teachers.  The next figure I have for you is £44 million.  That is the amount Scottish Local Authorities pay in “consultancy fees” – this one was picked up at an anti cuts meeting, I think that the UNISON rep gave me that one.  So Councils pay people a combined £44 million to tell them what to do (Renfrewshire’s share is about £1 million, again source UNISON), can anyone tell me why we vote for them?  No?  Gordon Matheson is definitely struggling to justify his £60,000 salary then.

Forgotten among the political posturing is us, the poor saps who have to shell out to pay for all of the glorious largesse.  The Councillors, the local authorities group UNISON, and New Labour seem to have forgotten that we are still in a recession.  The price of food is still going up.  The price of fuel, one suspects, will go up once again over the winter, powering a rise in inflation past its current mark of 3.1%.  VAT is due to go up in January.  The price of public transport is set to increase as well, and to cap it all there are rumblings of an increase in interest rates.  With all of these price rises, where, one wonders, do our Councillors, COSLA & Iain Gray think that ordinary Scots are going to get the money to afford a council tax hike.  And it will be a hike.  Under New Labour, and then successive New Labour/Lib Dem administrations, Council Tax has gone up by an average of 47% between 1997 and 2007.  Yet it was noted that Band D council tax is 20% lower in Scotland than it is in England.  I wonder if COSLA have noticed this despite backing Glasgow City Council’s plan for a 3% rise.

In this light, a council tax rise will add more pressure to hard pressed people & families, already struggling with rising bills from other quarters.  It might not be an exaggeration to say that there might be blood on the hands of councillors if this goes ahead.  For what, to bale out councils who refuse to get real and properly cut their cloth’s.  This post and last should contain enough example’s to make you wary of the arguments put forward by the likes of Pat Watters, Gordon Matheson and Iain Gray in favour of the removal of the Council Tax freeze.  For Iain Gray to advocate this measure, he should be ashamed.  Labour used to have a reputation for standing up for the poor.  New Labour now only has a reputation for burying the poor.  Final proof that hollow class sloganeering will only get you so far.

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