Councils tend to think one dimensionally. The knee jerk reaction to Government reducing grant so is to immediately try and replace that lost income – there's only one way to do that and that means raising Council Tax. This, of course, is not the only option. Councils need to reform, innovate and think about how they generate income to survive in a new world of reducing Government grant. For me its not about doing ‘more with less’ or even doing ‘less with less’ its about doing things differently.
It seems remarkable that when the Government makes it a policy that anyone increasing Council Tax above 2% will have to have a referendum, the amount of people who suddenly believe a 2% increase is what is “needed”. I wonder if the Government had set that figure at 3% how much many councils would be recommending to increase Council Tax by that amount to balance the budget?
Locally, the government are offering us a 1% freeze grant, and overall, including all grants, we have a total increase in our spending power of 3%. Add to this changes in business rates which will increase our income by £300,000 next year, a new outsourced leisure contracts (£620K positive
income variation) and our reserves 20% over and above the required amount then you begin to see this council is actually in a very strong position, not the weak position proponents of an increase put forward.
The difference between the 2% increase of £164,000 and the 1% being offered by the Government is of £82,000. We all understand that the Government freeze money is only for one year yet even so it seems that our council is more than capable of finding this money.
It's difficult for the public to square this against a new Theatre built for £42 million, currently being subsidized to the tune of £600,000K per year, and new Council offices built for £6.2 million, while the old one remains largely empty. Add to that the fact that both County and Town Councils around us intend to freeze their council tax.
The irony is, we are not a profligate council, generally, we are well run, we do have people with ideas. I have run some of the business transformational projects which are producing a more efficient organisation through things like encouraging people to use the web thus driving down our transaction costs. We can argue about the pace of change, and we do, but nonetheless we have started.
It's because we are an efficient well run Council that we can and should freeze council tax. It seems to me that by putting up Council Tax councils send the opposite message, especially in the current economic situation, with so many other budgets being frozen or cut.
Not only can we afford not to put up Council Tax I believe we can send a message to the public that we don’t want to put up council tax, we don’t need to put up council tax because we have truly transformed local government from a tax and spend Labour philosophy (it increased exponentially under Labour) to a sleek, well oiled operation, efficient and transparent, there for those who need us but true to our principles of low taxation and prudence with the public money.
I believe we can freeze and we can innovate – that is Conservatism and that is the future.