Council Tax - are Sevenoaks taxpayers getting value for money?
By Tony Clayton
Many areas have reported a rise in council tax. Are we getting value for money?
In Sevenoaks our Council Tax pays for a huge range of services:
- most for Kent County Council's education, transport, social and other services,
- Police and firefighters once covered by Kent, now separate
- District Council spend on rubbish collection, planning, health and housing
- Town Council cash for parks, community halls, support to local groups and activities.
Your bill for all these has risen faster than inflation over the last five years. In most cases that's because government funding - from income tax - has been cut and replaced with Council Tax.
This means fewer services are paid for by a 'progressive tax' - which depends on ability to pay, and more by a 'regressive tax', where the amount you pay falls as a proportion of income or wealth the richer you are. So everyone on less than average local income pays a higher proportion of the total bill. For you, value for money is certainly worse.
Government has tried to hide some increases. For example it forced Councils to describe the 53% hike in the social care bill last month as a 2% rise using 'creative' statistics. Sevenoaks District Council has won prizes for its 'innovative' financial management - part based on raising car park income and risky property speculation.
Sevenoaks Town Council - which had no government funding to lose - has raised its tax by 30% - five times the rate of inflation - since 2014. In part that's to pay for ambitious schemes, not all of which went to plan!
For fairer funding of local services, Liberal Democrats back local income tax or land value tax - both used in other countries. Either would ensure each family's contribution is based on income or wealth.
The big plus for land value tax is that it forces developers to use land where they have permission. In today's system they speculate for bigger plans by sitting on empty sites - like those opposite Sevenoaks station and Sevenoaks bookshop - and paying nothing.
That's not good value for Sevenoaks, or its taxpayers.
Cllr Tony Clayton