Cllr Matthew Sephton represents Altincham Ward in Trafford Council.
My passionate dislike of the EU was one of the first issues that got me involved in politics as a teenager. As someone interested in government and democracy, I couldn’t understand the fact that we elect a UK government only to give away their power to a foreign body with little or no accountability, and whose laws are then supreme over ours. I also could not comprehend why the diversity of nations across the EU should have to be eradicated by a one-size-fits-all approach promoting homogeneity across member states.
I continue to find this puzzling and I now see, first-hand, both as an elected councillor and school teacher, the impact of EU membership.
What many people don’t realise is that the EU affects our everyday lives at local council level and that we pay more tax as a result.
All levies on councils are, naturally, passed on to council taxpayers, that is to say you and me.
One of the most obvious examples is the tax on landfill. Whilst I admire the fact that recycling rates are much higher than they were, councils have been virtually forced to change their collection of domestic waste by only collecting bins fortnightly (and I have recently heard rumours of one council considering changing to every three weeks).
Local residents really do not like this, understandably in my opinion. The reason for this is that when bins do get emptied, councils are charged a levy on it, for which the council taxpayer foots the bill. In 2015, this charge was £18 per tonne and is set to increase year on year. This means that a council such as Cumbria alone pays around £4 million a year in landfill tax.
Total tax paid so far amounts to over £1 billion and this is not going to get any lower. The result is that, especially families, have more rubbish than they can legitimately dispose of and fly-tipping or the leaving of domestic rubbish bags by on-street bins is on the up, creating all the obvious health hazards.
Of course, landfill is not the only area where the EU directly costs councils. There are also directives on public transport and the environment, which cost money to implement. Council staff costs are higher because of EU directives, while strict rules on procurement of supplies, equipment and the purchase or rent of buildings are enforced by a costly bureaucracy. Often, smaller, local businesses are also discriminated against as they are often pushed out of a bidding race by their larger, often non-UK, counterparts.
It is estimated that the total EU-imposed cost to local councils is £500 million per year. If we vote Leave, this money can be spent on our priorities rather than those of a faceless remote EU bureaucracy.
Just take the £350 million we send every week to Brussels. Yes, we get some back in the form of a rebate and some back as European cash to fund various projects across the UK. However, on the rebate, a huge chunk of that, fought so hard for by Margaret Thatcher, was surrendered by Tony Blair during his time as PM, because, in his words, it was a much-needed ‘compromise’. In other words, that rebate is by no means secure, and is, in fact, extremely vulnerable to the whims of a future Prime Minister.
On the European money provided to fund projects and investment in various parts of the UK, yes, cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow have been given funds for local projects. For example, some of the money used to drastically modernise Birmingham New Street station was ‘from Europe’, and in Swansea much of the city’s new central bus station was funded by this ‘EU money’. However, what we must remember is that this is not ‘EU money’. It is our money, but we get little say as to how it’s spent, as control of that is surrendered with our £350 million weekly cheque. Imagine if we vote to leave: government and local authorities will be able to take back control of that money and those projects.
Next there is the issue of our vital local services, especially our schools and how they are funded. When it comes to school places it was estimated this year that 100,000 parents would miss their first preference for primary school places, which are still mostly under local authority control.
When we consider the fact that the 2015-16 schools block unit of funding is £4,612 per pupil, 100,000 additional school places would therefore cost £461 million. Our gross contribution to the EU in 2014 was £19.1 billion, so 100,000 additional school places would cost just 2.4 per cent of that contribution. Indeed, that figure is just over a week’s worth of contributions to the EU. If we vote Leave, we can take control of that money and make up the school places shortfall in less than nine days.
Those warning of disaster if we leave the EU remind me of a used car salesman trying to sell us a 1957 European model that keeps breaking down and costs us a fortune to repair. Let’s leave this failing, undemocratic, outdated institution and regain control of our country. Let’s be able, once again, to elect and throw out governments of our choice who have ultimate authority in our country.