Ryeview – November 2003

John Clark writes…

First published: November 2003

Could this be my last Ryeview? I have in the past disagreed with fellow columnists and survived. However this time I intend to disagree with the Editor. Not an advisable course of action. Probably fatal in terms of a journalistic career!

The message from the editorial (G. & H. 19th Nov. 2003) is that local government is dear and that council tax should not rise. If I were a southerner I would delicately question the tenets of this statement. Coming from Yorkshire I say “the editorial is wrong”!

There are two main factors that have created what in fact is an illusion. Firstly for over twenty years national politicians have been promising (and delivering) income tax cuts. At the same time they have promised more in terms of services and benefits to the public. There have been of course some limited savings in terms of efficiency. Basic economics state that if less is paid less will be bought. The result is that if less is raised by income tax then money has to be raised elsewhere or services reduced. We have had increased prescription charges (NHS not free at the point of use!), tax on pension funds, VAT on fuel and dozens of others.

The second large factor impinging on local government is that Council Tax is only part of the local government finance equation. Others include what levels of service the local council has to deliver (imposed by central government) and the level of funding central government pays to the local council. If the money from central government doesn’t cover the ‘compulsory’ statutory increases and inflation then Council Tax has to be increased by more than inflation just to keep the same level of services. This year, to quote the Local Government Association, “most local authorities will receive a below inflation grant increase which could be as low as 2.2%.”
Another large strand in the Council Tax debate is what services are provided. Keeping the Council Tax down at all costs is a perfectly acceptable ‘political’ view. However logically it must be accompanied by statements as to where the ‘cuts’ will occur. Should there be ‘less police’? Lower standards of education? Less support for the elderly and infirm? Even less money for rural transport? (The need for rural transport being the second part of the editorial of G. & H. 19th Nov. 2003!) Reduce council spending on preparing to dual the A64! Of course some of us may agree with the cutting of some of these but not most of them.

In my ‘long’ six months on Ryedale District Council I haven’t seen vast areas of waste or areas of ‘fat’ that could be removed. It is illogical to believe that we can always get better services for the same or less money. Lager numbers of computers in schools, more care for an increasing proportion of elderly and increased pollution monitoring all cost money.

One area where the editor and I may agree is that those on fixed incomes should not be paying more. This again is not the fault of local government. Ryedale District Council does not have a choice as to how it collects the money. A local income tax system would be much fairer. Those who are earning more and can afford would pay more. The pensioner not paying income tax would not pay. While the high earning pensioner would of course pay their share. At present any rise in council tax hits unfairly on many of those on lower incomes.

There are those who believe that all we get for our council tax is having our bins emptied. We need to remember we went to school paid for by local people. We may one day need help from social services. If we want a just, civilised and fairer society we must ensure that local government supplies local services. We should be proud of those services provided and certainly not ashamed of paying for them.

Finally if you have just read this Ryeview then the editor of the Gazette and Herald has published a view different from that of his paper. Good for the Freedom of the Press and I may continue as a columnist!

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