Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Referenda for council tax increases - that's another pickle you're getting into, Eric!

To be honest, I've never really rated Eric Pickles - his bluff, 'I'm a Yorkshireman' style doesn't convince me of his integrity and his supposed common sense approach is merely a poorly-disguised populism. And, unfortunately, his proposal that voters might be able to vote down a council tax increase in a referendum is one of those superficially attractive ideas that will be very popular until it starts to be used.

In my experience, very few councils want significant increases in the level of council tax. Given that there are councils that have elections in three years out of every four, you can hardly hope that profligacy will be forgotten by the next election. And, in the current circumstances, very few will seek to levy significant increases.

But let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that there are some councils determined to increase their council tax rate by more than the rate of inflation. There could be good cause - something that central government won't fully cover like free bus travel for the elderly. It might be that local voters desire extra services. A referendum is triggered, costing however much - I'm told that the cost of Parish Council elections for Creeting St Peter is about £1.10 per elector, so you can use that as a guide.

If the proposed precept is lost, what is it replaced by? Does the Council return to the drawing board and how long will it have? Because time is of the essence, council tax demands have to be issued, direct debits updated, staff paid, after all.

And who campaigns for the two sides of the argument? Would the minority opposition group be effectively constraining the elected administration? Would the costs of running the referendum exceed the resultant reduction in income?

For most district and parish councils, the burden is likely to exceed the benefit, and the consequential effects in a place like Mid Suffolk are serious indeed. Given that the District collects the precepts of the County, the Parish and the Fire Authority, all of whom might be blameless, how is the circle squared?

All in all, this is a dog's breakfast of a proposal. The Daily Mail will doubtless love it, as they hate government at every level, but voters will quickly discover the downsides. But it will glean a few favourable headlines, just as Labour were so adept at doing. They were good at promising the moon and delivering nothing too...


Jennie said...

Oh dear... perhaps I should stop being so Yorksher. I don't want people to confuse me with Eric Pickles...

Mark Valladares said...


No, you're not being Yorksher, you're being you. And no, we're never, ever going to confuse you with Eric Pickles - he's much, much less interesting.