How should your Council Tax be spent?
By Tony Clayton
Your Council Tax bill which arrived in April repeats the story of above inflation increases. Up 5.4% this year - bringing the rise over five years to almost a quarter. Much higher than the 10% increase in most wages over the same period.
More local services are now paid for through the regressive Council Tax system, which hits low income families harder. Less comes through central government from income tax, which is related to ability to pay.
As government transfers more services to local government while reducing cash support, the whole system becomes more unfair. The case for replacing Council Tax with local income tax gets stronger every year government passes the buck.
Ministers for local government have been enthusiastic advocates for austerity. They've been keen to cut support for councils, because the councils get the blame for squeezed social services and ever deepening potholes. Central government gets away scot-free.
Some local councils have been looking for ways to cut costs - by sharing services. Sometimes this works, but it can take service delivery further away from local residents - for example in planning.
And they've been looking for creative ways to raise cash. Sevenoaks is cashing in on motorists seeking parking spaces. The council has also invested in office blocks and hotels, which is fine as long as the property market continues to rise. But there are risks if it doesn't.
Tunbridge Wells is raising charges for green waste collection, and betting its money (i.e. your money) on a commercial and entertainment complex built on Calverley Park. Unfortunately the South East Local Entreprise Partnership commissioned a review which found it 'poor value for money'.
Our councils might make more secure returns building affordable homes for local people, which we certainly need.
Tony Clayton - Town & District Councillor