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.
Completely agree! If we get the referendum, I’ll be voting ‘yes’ to. I know it might be fairly expensive for some people to afford, but in the end we have to trust the money will go back in to services to better serve the people. So I think its so important to show that local councils can set their own council tax levels for the needs of their people without central Government interfering.
Hi Ian, thanks for sending this to me. It’s difficult. What some would call posturing, others would call ideology/beliefs. Ultimately, I want politicians to have more principles, not less, so it’s not always easy for politicians from different parties to work together if they fundamentally believe different things. Conservatives believe in free and efficient markets (I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a thing in real life! I’ve definitely seen markets which are efficient at destroying the planet and concentrating wealth in the hands of very few people), a small (welfare) state, privatisation and they seem to have little problem with growing inequality (and more). New Labour are marginally to the left (they pretend to be more left than they actually are) of the Tories as this political compass shows (http://politicalcompass.org/ukparties2010) although this wasn’t always the case (it was amazing how they introduced the NHS. ‘In Place of Fear’ by Bevan is a really inspiring book). The Greens are supposed to be standing for a much more progressive, sustainable and democratic vision, and often are saying and doing things which backs that up. So, if they believe different things, to what extent should they compromise on their beliefs to work together? That question would divide people. For me, I want them to be as friendly with each other as possible, work together as much as possible, but I still want them to be principled and for them to stick up for what they believe in, and if necessary stand up against the other parties!