Cllr Neil Reddin, the cabinet member for Resources on the London Borough of Bromley, says the Taxpayers Alliance should set up consultancy arm so councils could hire them to find savings.
I am, by and large, a supporter of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. I suspect the same can be said of most Conservatives, and possibly a few Lib Dems (at least, those that still believe in genuine classical liberalism).
However, as a councillor I sometimes find myself, or my council, at the sharp end of the TPA’s ire when it turns its gaze on local government in general (if not specifically on my borough). Now, I’m not complaining about a bit of criticism, even from friends, but for the longer term good of the TPA’s campaigns, I feel it’s time they started engaging more closely with councillors and thinking how to start actually changing things for the better.
Attacking “councils” or “councillors” as a collective unit plays well with the general public. However, it can be counterproductive if the TPA are getting the backs up of the very people they should want to get onside.
As an example, focussing on the crude measure of council tax increases, whilst admittedly being what the taxpayer sees, doesn’t address the fundamental problem of government funding of local authorities, or the unfunded responsibilities being piled onto local authorities from Whitehall. These are problems that mitigate a lot of the good work that is being done in councils to keep taxes lower than they would otherwise be, and which we want the taxpaying public to appreciate. The TPA could play an important role here alongside right-minded councillors.
This isn’t a call from a councillor with a vested interest to stop the TPA doing its erstwhile work – to the contrary, I want to see the TPA succeeding, as one part of the growing conservative movement. I know that I and many of my colleagues would want to work with the TPA to make their objectives reality, and I appreciate that some councillors are already getting involved with the TPA.
Nor is it that many of us (at least on the right) need persuading … and that is the most frustrating thing: we also want, and work, to cut out waste and bring down taxes in our own councils, but being on the inside we see that things are more complicated, and simply taking a sledgehammer to the machinery will achieve little. If you want to take a ‘plane to go to your chosen destination, you need to have someone who knows how to fly the aircraft.
What is the answer? I think that one way could be for the TPA to set up a consulting arm, marketing its services to councils. Whether, and how much, they charge for such services would be a useful question for the TPA, but the point would be that councils would be able to directly engage with the TPA, to taxpayers’ benefit, and the TPA itself would be able to get a better understanding of how things work in local government, and thus be able to focus and construct its campaigns more effectively and build their credibility among the people who are taking the decisions, at all levels of government.
Clearly if such a trading arm were to generate a reasonable surplus, then that could help further the TPA’s work.
There are, of course, such consultancies in existence now, but the likes of the IDEA, whilst well meaning and not without purpose, are products of the same system as their clients. A TPA consultancy would have as its strength not only a deep conviction in the principle of smaller government and low taxation, but the significant involvement of both ordinary taxpayers and their elected representatives.