Tuesday, 11 March 2008

No 2 controversial issue but must be tackled

Council tax.
This tax in my opinion is unsustainable. It has to be one of the most unfair taxes ever invented and almost as bad as the poll tax it replaced. It is particularly unfair to pensioners and those on fixed incomes. Since Labour came to power council tax has more than doubled with no improvements to the services we are getting. Our council was buoyant in claiming our increase of 2.9% was lowest in West Mids but they had a few days earlier increased charges for meals on wheels by 30%. Our opposition parties never effectively spoke out against the budget and when it came to the vote none of them voted against it. Liberal Democrats have the right idea with a local income tax. With the current atmosphere of political parties pinching each others ideas, how about it Alistair! Pinch this one. We are seeing inflation running at its highest level for 15yrs. Pension increases are based on last years inflation numbers. Petrol, fuel, and food prices are going through the roof. Sandwell residents and particularly pensioners are in effect getting poorer. What are we doing about it? It is time for a change. In Sandwell I think we should be campaigning for an elected Mayor who should be paid by results. Part of his/her brief should be to radically reorganise Sandwell from top to bottom with a brief to reduce council tax year on year without falling standards. It could be done with some lateral thinking. Labour partly has it right in planning longer term budgets but they all lack the will to radically improve things. It is not a bad idea to have the chief of police elected along with other senior officials. It works well in local government in the states, why not here?


Bob Piper said...

I don't think I could disagree more if I tried, Bob.

First, a local income tax: Who pays it to who? It is one of those ideas which sound simple, but end up with a nightmare cost associated to it and an enormous bureaucracy created to feed it.

A local income tax would be collected by an employer. For employers to maintain and track the localities in which their employees live in order to send them some tax every month, the costs could be astronomical, particularly for employers who employ people from all over the country.

Alternatively, the tax could be paid more more easily by employers to those authorities where people are employed, but boroughs like Sandwell where far more people travel to work in Birmingham and Dudley would experience a massive drop in income. Places like Torquay and other popular retirement areas would go bust in a matter of months, or just simply axe services to their retired population (try floating that one past the pensioners convention).

Of course, you could use the centrally administered income tax to redress these imbalances, but then you lose any sense of local democratic control or accountability. Areas will have money doled out y civil servants in government offices dependent upon how they view local circumstances.

I don't altogether disagree that John Major's council tax, introduced to get him off the hook of poll tax, is imperfect, but I can't see the argument for a local income tax, and we haven't even touched on how you locally tax investment income.

As for a Mayor I can see not one jot of merit in this system. I note your Mayor has only one specific objective: reduce council tax year on year. OK, I'll take the job. Easy. We will repair no roads or streetlights in the next year, and reduce the workforce in those departments by 90%. Is that radical enough for you?

We will increase charges on all council services by 10% and start charging for the use of library books. That's pretty radical and should help hold down the Council Tax.

What do you mean, you don't like it. OK, vote me out in 4 years time, and get some other nutcase with radical ideas who will have no accountability to anyone.

As a socialist and a democrat I am fundamentally opposed to the notion of electing a 'strong individual' who will make the trains run on time and cut taxes at the same time, oh, and doesn't have to be terribly accountable to anyone either. It sounds brilliant, it sounds easy... but will it work? Evidence from those areas that have elected a mayor are not convincing.

Must end this rant now, I could go on for hours... but other work to do dealing with my constituents I'm afraid.

Bob the Black Country Brummie said...

Thanks for your comments Bob as always a firm opinion. I don’t think at any time I suggested services deteriorating in fact I made it clear there should be no reduction in services. The mayor would be responsible to the electorate in the same way that councillors are. It’s good to have a debate like this and I only wish our local councillors would engage in the same way. We need to address the problems that council tax causes. These ideas may not be the way forward but in my opinion we cannot go on as we are.

Bob Piper said...

Bob, I know what you mean by a Mayor being accountable in the same way as councillors, but it isn't quite the same. A Mayor has untrammeled power for four years. They cannot be held to account by political groups, because if they were the whole point of the mayor is lost.

Although each councillor is elected for four years, the elections are spread over four years so council's can be taught a very savage lesson if they are seen to deliberately ignore the electorate.

Take this year, for example. Do you believe the Council would have held the Council Tax to 2,85% if there were no elections for another 3 years? Call me a cynic if you want, but I don't think so.

Anyway, I enjoy this dialogue we have. I have an e-bulletin I put out to over 400 people every month on my Ward e-mail register and it enables them to have a regular dialogue with me. I'm not blowing my own trumpet, but in Bearwood (one of Sandwell's 'posher' bits), we had the biggest majority of any party in any Ward in Sandwell, and I put at least some of that down to our regular communication with our electorate.

Bob the Black Country Brummie said...

Bob, I like the idea of regular dialogue with email register. Lib Dems in this posh bit did the same with their quarterly Focus newsletter. Labour before Dave Hosell never thought it mattered now they match them leaflet for leaflet and in the main do it better. Could you let Dave know how to do the email because I think you have hit it right.
I like this dialogue to. The purpose of this post being controversial was to stimulate debate.
Police chiefs having to be elected sure does get crime figures down near election time and we would has citizens be able to fire poor performers. Under the present system they just get moved around.

Bob Piper said...

Bob, our bulletin is monthly... send me your e-mail address and I'll send you the last couple.