Richard Willis's Blog

First for local news and first for comment

Cutting the Burden of Council Tax

For many years the flagship Conservative councils of Wandsworth and Westminster have shown the way on providing excellent services with a very low level of Council Tax. These two have been been emulated by Councils like Hammersmith and Fulhan which have put cutting Council Tax amongst the highest priorities of the ruling Conservative team. Here in Reading we are used to paying the highest Council Tax in Berkshire and receiving very mediocre services in return. In a number of areas services delivered by the Council have been found by outside inspectors to be “inadequate”.

The essential problem seems to me to be that all too often Labour equates higher spending with better services. This view is clearly shared by most Lib Dems. This leads them to accuse Conservatives who argue for lower Council Tax of wanting to cut or damage frontline services. Clearly in some cases Councils DO make decisions to cut some frontline services in order to keep spending in check. However, one does not automatically flow from the other. As the best Conservative Councils have demonstrated, it is possible through good leadership and management, to keep spending down while providing excellent services to residents.

Today we learned that the Conservative controlled Berkshire Unitary Council of Windsor and Maidenhead will be proposing a 4% CUT in their level of Council Tax this year. This is despite a Labour Government which has for years channelled money from southern England to Labour supporting areas in the north of England.

Reading Conservatives have pledged to freeze Council Tax if we take office this May. Maybe we are not being ambitious enough! However, after years of Labour administration in Reading there are many problem areas that will need to be addressed and often changes to structures and procedures are initially more expensive before they begin to show a return in lower costs. The search for “efficiencies” which the Council began last year with the help of accountants Price Waterhouse Coopers (something which we proposed) is already showing the possibility of saving £7.1m per year – that is more than twice what would have been needed last year to freeze Council Tax in Reading.

There is clearly much scope within Reading’s budget to make savings without damaging frontline services. Our commitment to freeze Council Tax is therefore clearly achievable even without the rigour that a Conservative majority administration would bring to spending. If anyone doubts this just think of the £1m Labour wasted on the one-way IDR scheme, or the several millions spent on developing plans for a new set of Civic Offices. 

Some London Labour Councils have realised that continuous increases in Council Tax are not acceptable to the electorate and in this year of local elections in London are proposing a freeze. I wonder if Labour in Reading are thinking along similar lines in attempt to save the skins of some of their vulnerable Council seats. It will also be interesting to see how the high-tax-loving Lib Dems react. As predicted last year, 2010 promises to be politically fascinating both in Council elections and the General Election.

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January 21, 2010 - Posted by | Local, National

5 Comments »

  1. The IDR scheme was backed by all the parties until it became very clear that the scheme was too unpopular with the public to continue support, at which point the Conservatives backed away.
    So far as the civic offices are concerned……a question Cllr…….have you any idea what the council achieved for the £3.8 million? , because so far nobody has been able to explain sensibly what was received for that vast amount of money.

    Comment by howard thomas | January 22, 2010 | Reply

    • Mr Thomas – that is simply not the case. I have ALWAYS opposed the one-way IDR scheme. When I was transport spokesman for our group before I stood down in 2004 I opposed the one-way IDR. When I was re-elected in 2007 and resumed the transport portfolio I opposed the one-way IDR and received the backing of my group for that position. I was told by many that it was a done deal and we could not stop the plan. We did stop it!

      The Council spent the money on the Civic Offices on plans and design work purchased from consultants. We were criticised roundly by Labour for withdrawing from the Civic Board when the real costs became clearer but the Conservative group led that argument and once again have stopped the proposal. The Lib Dems sat on the fence, arguing for the new building, then refurbishment of the existing building, whilst maintaining that the Council was stalling on a decision. To turn around a proposal of this magnitude takes time in a hung Council, especially when the Lib Dems were unwilling at first to support our position.

      Comment by Richard Willis | January 22, 2010 | Reply

      • Hmmm… Richard to say that the “Conservative Group led the argument on and once again have stopped the proposal” is wrong on two counts:
        1. I was first to raise the issue at Scrutiny and have consistently pursued it ever since.
        2. The proposal has NOT been stopped yet – it is still running in some parallel process working it’s way through the long grass. Will the Tories have the courage to finally kill it off at budget time?
        I can vouch for you on the IDR though!

        Comment by Cllr Tony Jones | January 24, 2010

      • Tony – I am happy to accept your statement that you were the first to raise the issue at scrutiny. However, I am sure you would accept that had the Conservative Group not been the first of the political parties to break from the consensus on replacing the Civic Offices that there would have been no change and we would still be on course to build a “Palace for Councillors” (as some called it) at huge cost to the Council-tax payer.

        I can assure you that IF there was any proposal to resurrect the plans from their coffin then the Conservative Group would certainly “have the courage” to drive a stake through their heart. My understanding was that officers and Labour have now accepted our argument to use an existing building rather than a purpose built Civic Centre.

        Comment by Richard Willis | January 24, 2010

      • Then you can count on my full support – for as long as it lasts! I think the phrase was a “Politician’s Palace”. But smaller government & the buses?

        Comment by Cllr Tony Jones | January 24, 2010


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