Ryeview – February 2004

Tax decision was an opportunity missed

John Clark writes…

First published: February 2004 – Gazette & Herald

We are all going to be paying 5% more Council Tax to Ryedale Council. How did RDC arrive at the budget? Have we got value for money? Could savings have been made? Are we spending the Council Tax on the right things?

I had hoped to have some of the questions answered by standing for the council in May 2003. Friends and electors were somewhat negative.

  • “Why would you want to do that?”
  • “You won’t change anything.”
  • “They go on increasing the Council Tax – we don’t get any more.”

A few Ryeviews ago I disagreed with the Editor of the Malton Gazette when he called for low Council Tax. My belief was that ‘Value for money’ and ‘Helping those that need’ were the important issues.

The budget process on Ryedale District Council was illogical. So as to improve the situation officers devised a system for creating priorities. Members were asked to contribute towards creating a priority order for new bids and the existing budget. Very few did. As a result officers drew up a list of bids, in order, to add to the budget. Those items not on this list disappeared. Those on the list had a cumulative total thus showing an increase in Council Tax from approximately 0% to 9%. Apart from two items just below the 5% line there was no serious debate. The easy route was taken.

Councillors did not question the £6million base budget. They kept their pay rise – after all it was proposed by an independent panel! They see nothing ‘wrong’ in doing nothing for the environment. They see nothing ‘wrong’ in spending over £4,000 on a Civic Dinner. Equally they believe the Chairman should have a chauffeur driven limo at £9,600 a year.

Apart from opposition from one lone Liberal everything was unanimous. Just as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm – Clover and the other animals couldn’t tell the difference between the pigs and the humans. They were both as bad as each other. In the committee it was impossible to tell Liberal Democrats from Conservatives from Independents. Apart from the debate round two headings about funding already mentioned there was no disagreement over the level of the Council Tax. The doorstep phrase of “they are all the same” fits in well with the evidence from Ryedale Council. The budget ‘debate’ confirmed the belief “it won’t make any difference who I vote for”. A few twiddles here, a few less twiddles there but basically the same.

Losing the vote or not being seconded is not a problem. My concerns are:

  • The political views all appeared the same.
  • No one other than the Liberal wanted to look at the £6m Ryedale already had in the budget. What was not needed? What was good value?
  • There was, apart from the liberal, the universal opinion that ‘pomp and privilege’ must remain intact.

Councillors were not prepared to consider any changes. They either strongly protected their free drinks and chairman’s limo or didn’t even comment.

What is the solution? There are two. We either change the politicians or we scrap the council. I believe in democracy and would thus prefer the first option. The response from many of the public may well be “They are all the same” and “They are all in it for themselves”. Back where I started in the spring of 2003! I don’t agree with the second of these views. However after the budget debate I have to agree with the first.

We need a democratic local council – one with political differences, debate, representation and democracy. Ryedale District Council does an immense amount of good in Ryedale. Nevertheless Councillors must be prepared to question what the council is doing and why? This must happen at least once a year and in full public view. The present response that “we have done it this way for 29 years” is not a sound or logical argument. Ryedale people will not accept that complacent approach. The increase in the Council Tax is half the increase for the Police Authority or the County Council. The shame is that RDC could have delivered more for the same budget. An opportunity missed.

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