Ryeview – February 2009

The pantomime of Council spending

John Clark writes…

First published: February 2009 – Gazette & Herald

My Ryeview was going to be about gardens and wildlife. In Ryedale it is not yet Spring. It is the annual pantomime season. Every year politicians say they need to keep the Council tax down. Then they increase it by; more than the increase in the state pension, more than the wage increase for council workers and of course more than inflation.

Off stage is the sound of the government. A government that has kept the state pension at an even lower level than under the Tories. A government that has increased the tax level for the low paid while not taxing the ‘fat cats’. A government that has allowed inflation to hit the poor hardest. A government that has widened the gap between rich and poor to a record level. The government says ‘Local authorities should show sympathy towards people who are suffering in the present climate.’ “Oh no they won’t”.

I believe the local Tory Leader has told their membership that he will try to achieve a 21/2% increase in the Council Tax. Other councillors on RDC, he maintains, are trying to set a higher rate. “Oh no he didn’t”. At the Policy and Resources Committee the Tory leader (plus Tories and all the Independents) voted against a   21/2% increase in favour of 3%.

A pantomime accepts that people do the opposite of what they say. Every year the poor of Ryedale sit at home, do the chores and save for their Council Tax bill. Meanwhile the Councillors ‘go to the Ball’. The drinks allowance and the ‘luxury limo’ are automatically increased by inflation. In the first year of the credit crunch these must be reduced or better still removed. The council could use a pumpkin drawn by mice.

The RDC pantomime has its own special feature. It involves spending loads of money and then showing the ‘savings’. Savings are always considerably less than the ‘spend’. Two years ago this featured a massive hike in salary for the Chief Executive. Last year it was £400,000 on a new layer of management. This year it is spending £200,000+ on the Civic Suite. Hassle and push has reduced this to £132,000. The star turn is the tables. ‘They are too heavy’. “Boo”. New tables will be bought – “Hooray”. The new tables will be light – “Hooray”. ‘This will save money on table lifters’ – “Hooray”.

What is the council annual expenditure on ‘table lifters’? How many pennies will be saved by spending thousands of pounds?

In any good pantomime the villain changes to being nice. On RDC I don’t expect any change until the curtain call. I have however given the lamp a little rub. Here are my three   wishes:

  • The council tax increase will be 0%.
  • RDC spending will be on the workers, not on senior management and consultants.
  • The capital will be spent on Affordable Housing, not on image-enhancing goodies.

Other pantomimes have a limited run. The RDC pantomime continues throughout the year. The next performance is at Ryedale House on Monday 23rd February at 6.30pm.

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