Communities and Local Government Minister – Grant Shapps MP – wrote recently that: “well-managed councils do not need to compromise frontline services to make savings. Councils can do more for less through better procurement, embracing transparency and more joint working. Councils which just cut the front line, or hike charges, are guilty of poor leadership and poor management."
For what it is worth, I completely agree with him on this and it is, therefore, very revealing to learn, as we have been doing in recent weeks, about the financial plans of the first Green-run Council in the country.
As reported on Conservative Home, they have already decided to put up council tax by 3.5% for the next three years, in spite of an offer of £3 million from the Government to freeze it for next year.
Cllr. Jason Kitcat, the Green Finance Spokesman, has dismissed the Government’s offer as nothing more than a ‘gimmick’ but, judging by the contents of my inbox, residents are looking upon this decision with a mixture of complete bafflement and no little anger. The Green’s argument that they are doing this in order to raise more money ‘to protect vulnerable residents’ just doesn’t stack up.
As local government finance expert from the London School of Economics – Professor Tony Travers – confirmed on the BBC Politics Show recently, the proposed 3.5% increase is highly regressive as it will hit those on low-middle incomes the hardest. The very poorest residents don’t pay council tax anyway but it is those hard pressed families just above the cut-off line who will suffer from this decision. No wonder that the Taxpayers’ Alliance recently appointed Cllr. Kitcat their ‘pinhead of the month’!
We will certainly be voting against this unfair increase at February’s Budget Council meeting and if we can persuade the Labour Group to join us, it will be overturned. However, I am not holding my breath – after all, this is the same Labour Group who presided over a 120% increase in council tax over the 10 years they ran the Council up to 2007.
But it seems the Greens are not content with stinging residents with a large council tax increase. They have now decided that the Brighton & Hove motorist should be the next in line to be taken to the cleaners – this time the justification being to ‘cut congestion and pollution’. In their wisdom, they have decided to hike up both on- and off-street car parking charges, by more than 100% in some instances in order to raise an additional £1.3 million in revenue per annum.
The prospect of these large increases in parking charges has already set alarm bells ringing in the business community, not least because the cost of both business and trader permits is to more than double next year. The local economy of Brighton & Hove is heavily reliant upon people travelling here and spending their money and whether the Green Party likes it or not, a large number of these people want to make that journey by car. To make this option less attractive is nothing short of economic madness.
Finally, for local government anoraks, the Greens also seem to be going cold on the ‘intelligent commissioning’ process started by the previous Conservative Administration, which promised to deliver millions of pounds worth of savings through focussing resources where they are most needed, and through sharing services with other organisations, both inside and outside of the city. We know that many of the Greens are ideologically opposed to commissioning of services full stop and so the lack of action should not come as a great surprise. However, it is a great pity that it is the residents, businesses and tourists in Brighton & Hove who have to pay the price for that ideology.
People will clearly make up their own minds about whether all this represents poor leadership and management according to Grant Shapps’ definition. What is certain is that these extraordinary changes promoted by the Greens would have a profound impact - and in my view they will be very much changes for the worse.