Ryeview – February 2008

Tax increase debate ignores ‘eat or heat’ question

John Clark writes…

First published: February 2008 – Gazette & Herald

A teacher asked a little boy “What is 2 plus 2?” The boy thinks and then asks “Are you buying or selling?” I believe the same logic is involved when it comes to setting the Council Tax. How much above inflation can we get away with? How much will the government allow us to increase without capping it? Questions like: What are the sums? What can people afford? are not asked.

It used to be done by a system of smoke and mirrors. Since the smoking ban only the mirrors are now used. A council decides that it would like to increase the Council Tax by a certain amount. It then ‘consults’. The questions are such that the required answer is reflected back. Then the consultation is quoted as a reason for increasing the Council Tax by the number first thought of. People who are choosing between ‘eating and heating’, the poor and the low paid, are unlikely to do a Ryedale District Council ‘on-line’ consultation.

Ryedale District Council carried out an on-line survey. Only 111 people (out of 50,000 plus in Ryedale) took part; less than 1 in 450. This is nowhere near a representative sample. Never mind, it produced the desired result: “On balance the preference was for an above inflation Council tax increase delivering some re-prioritisation of services.”

I have over the last 5 years discussed the Council Tax with thousands of people on their doorsteps. I cannot remember anyone saying anything like it. Yes, there are people who believe the Council Tax should go up – they can afford more – but no-one is using the words above.

As if to confirm the answer to the ‘are we buying or selling’ point the ditching of the Malton Dry Sports Centre (£3 million plus) produced no change in the proposed increase in the Council Tax.        Even though the running costs and the borrowing would have been £150,000/year (41/2 % on the Council Tax).

To be fair the main pressure for increased Council Tax is caused by the government. The grants from central government are reduced while at the same time local councils are expected to deliver more.

The way forward must be a loud protest to central government and some changes at Ryedale District Council. What Ryedale District Council must not do is continue to make up its shortfall by increasing the pressure on the poorer members of Ryedale.

The plan for the budget over each of the next three years is to increase the Council Tax by 11/2 % above inflation. This is shown to produce an increased income to the council of £50,000 each year. The figures show Council Tax £150,000 more than inflation in three years time.

The first action required is for Ryedale District Councillors to cut out their ‘luxuries’ so that the Council Tax (Ryedale District Council part) can be kept down to 3%, These savings have been suggested for each of the last 4 years. They have always been thrown out. By the time you read this I hope we have succeeded. I am not optimistic.

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