Sunday, 13 December 2009

Government tax panic - coming to a council near you soon...

Last Thursday Brighton's own Mary Mears, along with the leaders of every local council in the country, received an aggressive letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government warning them that the Government expects Council Tax rises to be the lowest ever, and that it will step in if any council dares to increase Council Tax by more than three per cent next year.

Now whatever we think of Council Tax - I think it's a deeply unfair tax that doesn't allow for the thousands, particularly older people, who live in larger homes (and therefore pay a higher rate of Council Tax) but have to live on low, and often fixed, incomes, and should be replaced with a form of Land Value Tax - it remains just about the only mechanism we’ve got for ensuring the cost of delivering a fair society are met according to people’s ability to pay.

For the Government to threaten direct intervention against any local authority who threatens to try and do exactly that is a direct assault on local democracy, and it will cost jobs, all for the sake of saving a few pence a week for those who, in the main, are most able to afford it.

And we're already seeing the effect. At a meeting of the Sussex Police Authority last week members effectively abandoned a promise made last year to create 31 new frontline neighbourhood policing jobs in order to escape the government's wrath: but creating these jobs was part of the democratic mandate that saw Police Authority members elected in the first place.

Add these 31 jobs to the 160 redundancies announced the week  before by Brighton and Hove City Council, the 450 at Lloyds TSB, the jobs to go at former retail giants Borders and Threshers, the 115 at the University of Sussex - well you get the picture - and we're talking a real jobs crisis here in Brighton, all for the sake of saving the richest a few pennies a week!

Just to be absolutely clear - I will continue to push for Sussex Police to try to boost neighbourhood policing by boosting its share of Council Tax by 3.77% next year - even if it means, not for the first time, that I find myself in a minority of one. I didn't take up local politics to be bullied by the Government - or to restrict myself to popular arguments.

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