All of us should by now have received our council tax bills and no doubt many of us will be pleased that the County Council has effectively frozen its charge. Good news, as none of us like to pay more than we need.
For some time now central government has been ‘bribing’ or should we say ‘incentivising’ councils to freeze their tax bills by giving them a special grant. In 2012/3 the county council used a whopping £13m of such grants to keep the council tax down. The ‘incentive’ for this year, 2013/14 was a miserly £2m so a £11m hole emerged and it had to be plugged.
How to plug the gap I hear you ask? Well in times of austerity and taking a lead from their political masters in London there would be only one way our conservative controlled Council would do it – more cuts. As the Chancellor keeps telling us we would lose all credibility if we did not get out spending down and quickly. There is no plan B.
And of course if they did not plug the gap by cuts it would mean putting up the Council Tax by around 5% or £50 per household.
But no. Our ever inventive Conservative controlled Council pulled a rabbit out of the hat and came up with a wheeze called the ‘financial stability’ reserve or perhaps more appropriately ‘lets con the people and get re-elected’ reserve. They used the reserve to plug the £11m hole and hey presto no extra cuts, no 5% increase in Council tax and, just what the (spin) doctor ordered, a Council tax freeze. To add insult to injury, the £11m they are giving us back, to freeze the council tax, was raised from us in the first place. It equates to around £50 off the average band D council tax bill.
Anybody would think that a County Council election was in the offing.
These reserves will run out sooner or later and the council tax will have to be increased sooner or later and more cuts implemented sooner or later. This appears to be a crude manipulation of the budget to fit in with an election cycle with the intention of improving the Conservatives chances of being re-elected; it is exactly the sort of thing that brings party politics and their politicians into disrepute. It kicks into the long grass, at least until after the elections, the need to be honest with the public about where the cuts will be coming from.
So when you go out to vote just remember they have tried to ‘bribe’ you by giving you £50 of your own money back to make themselves look good in the run up to an election. Don’t ya just love ’em?