Thursday, 8 March 2012

Municipal Mansions

It is an appalling proposal to tax people on what, unless it happens to be for sale, is the purely notional value of an asset which they might not necessarily own anyway, and which in any case they could not possibly sell unless they were expected to go and live up a tree or something.

But we sold the pass on this one more than 20 years ago, when we effectively restored the hated rates, and with them all their impeccably middle and upper-middle-class exemptions for students, clergy, second homes, and so on. Paid for by a hike in VAT, hardly the obvious way to help the poor.

We need a fair, efficient, comprehensible and accountable system of funding. That needs to be an annual flat fee, fixed by the council in question, strictly voluntary, entitling the payer to vote and stand in elections to the council, and payable through the benefits system on behalf of the very poor.

Central government would continue to meet much or all of the cost of statutory services to statutory standards. With its fees, the council could do pretty much whatever it liked on top, directly accountable to the people paying the bills. Everyone uses lots of local services.

Unless they send their children to commercial schools, as hardly anyone does, then most people make as much such use as each other, regardless of class or income; indeed, such things as street lighting are often significantly better in more affluent areas.

Yet hardly anyone votes in local elections, because local government is emasculated yet expensive, and notoriously unaccountable. It has not always been any of those things.

Buy the book here.


  1. The single biggest item of council tax expenditure is adult social care. Then it's schools and children's services. These two together make up a good 80% of all council expenditure.

    If you neither have children nor very elderly relatives living in the same council as you (which will be the case for a significant proportion of council tax payers) then 80% of spend is not for you. Street lighting occupies at most 1% of spend

    Do you do *any* research before you write your posts? Is this what your book is like?

  2. Why don't you buy it and find out?

    Those are statutory responsibilities, which, as I said, would continue to be met out of central government grants, as they are now. They are hardly, if at all, where Council Tax goes.

  3. Proper accountability and big turnouts. You can smell Bob's fear.

  4. And that is before mentioning the return of respect for council housing and its tenants, and the restorion in full of the proper powers of local government, with no tendering out of services in Conservative areas to the people who fund the local Conservative Party; in Labour areas, the Labour-funding unions rightly make sure that things are kept in house.

    No ultra vires principle, no surcharging, no capping, much proclamation of the fact that local government is significantly less profligate than central government, and none of the things that would not be tolerated in any other comparable country, not least including the frequent redrawing of boundaries, abolition of whole tiers, and such like.

    We need to bring back the old committee system, which gave individual councillors real clout, and so made it worthwhile to buttonhole them in the street, in the pub, or wherever, or indeed to write to, telephone or email them; Eric Pickles has made a good start in allowing a return to that system, but he needs to require it.

    We need to repeal the provision for planning decisions to be delegated from councillors to officers. We need a system whereby each of us votes for one candidate and the requisite number, never fewer than two, is elected at the end.

    And we need a fair, efficient, comprehensible and accountable system of funding.

  5. Does Bob honestly expect that the system you propose would lead to the abolition of education and of adult social care?

    And I doubt he knows more about the policy side of local government than you. Consigliere to one of the great North Eastern right-wing Labour machines, and still a sort of dauphin to its king over the water.

  6. Of course. In his obviously Blairite way, he would actively want that to happen.

    Unlike me, and unlike the rest of the old gang to which you refer. So, less of the "right-wing", please.

  7. Hardly! Protégé of the Catholics, countrymen, lay preachers, Freemasons and gong collectors who ruled in unofficial coalition with the Northern rural Tories who officially put up as Independents and then organised themselves into an Independent Group (WTF?!?) once they got in.

    Unofficial coalition, that is, against the Catholics', countrymen's, lay preachers', Freemasons' and gong collectors' own left wing, but the left never believed that of you and thought you were their great hope for the future.

    Even now, exactly what relationship you do or do not have with half a dozen or more factions within and beyond the Labour party is the stuff of mystery at local level, apparently at national level, and apparently in more than one English-speaking country abroad too. Some people are too clever for their own good.

  8. The Independents were at least as strong in the Consett area as they were in the countryside. Oddly enough, it is true, they never did contest the Leader's Consett ward, where they could have done well.

    But they got two Scrutiny Chairs, 100 per cent more than they were entitled to. And he got enough votes to guarantee him Leader of the Council even if the nutters (I wouldn't call them "the Left") ever had just about taken control of the Labour Group.

    Oh, yes, I learned from the best, all right.

    On topic, please.