Twitter broke the news this week that Brighton & Hove Council intend to set a Council Tax level of 4.75% for 2014/15. This exceeds the 2% limit set by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government. The implication of this is that the Council must hold a referendum to gain the consent of tax payers for this breach of Government limits. The cost of a referendum is estimated to be £350,000 but if held in May along with the EU elections this sum would reduce to around £230,000. I agreed to write a piece for todays Argus newspaper expressing my views, as someone with no party political allegiance. The following is the piece I have written.
Those of us living in Brighton and Hove may not appreciate how much we benefit, or should benefit from a relatively simple political structure to determine our planning policy; how often our bins are emptied; what speed we are allowed to drive; the levels of public transport and our education provision. In most of Sussex, there are two or even three Councils to make these decisions and many others with plenty of potential for disagreement between organisations that are meant to provide public services in the most effective and affordable manner. In our City this organisational advantage is often squandered by poor political leadership from all Political Parties. If these squabbling factions do ultimately agree to set a Council Tax level that exceeds the Government threshold in order to protect the weak and vulnerable in our city, as a result of Government Policy you and I will be faced with a referendum that will cost each of us about £1. I believe it is a travesty that so much public money will be wasted on a process which no one has asked for. This is the same sum that the nation has been expressing outrage over in the context of Parliamentary Paintings over 20 years. At least the Palace of Westminster has a wall full of paintings to show for the money spent.
If we are faced with a referendum, I believe that we should participate. My vote will be to agree to the increase in our taxes. It will not be because I want to have less money to spend, or that I believe that the current administration has been a great success. It will be because I can see from my contact with local Councils in Sussex of all hues, that the way in which local Government funding has been manipulated and twisted by Westminster means that unnecessary suffering is being inflicted on people who depend on the state, by men and a few women who will never see that suffering. This referendum is not a chance to tell the current Green administration that we think they are doing a good or bad job. It is certainly not a chance to tell them to go. However it is a chance to tell our elected representatives in Brighton & Hove that their democratically taken decisions should not be controlled by a Government that has constantly claimed that it believes in the autonomy of Local Government and local decision making.