Since 2010, local authorities in England have been very effectively restrained from substantially increasing Council Tax levels by the requirement to hold a referendum. There was some talk of a referendum in Brighton and Hove when the Green Party were running the Council. We actually did have a referendum in Bedfordshire called by the then Police and Crime Commissioner. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected – and the Labour PCC subsequently voted out of office.

Now there is the prospect of a referendum in Liverpool.

The Guardian reports:

“The people of Liverpool could be asked to vote on whether they should pay up to 10% more council tax to help their “desperate” local authority maintain public services in the face of government cuts.

“Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s mayor, wants to hold a public referendum – the first of its kind in the UK – to ask residents whether they would support a significant rise above the 3.99% cap.

“The council is warning that if it does not increase tax then it faces cuts to all its services, with adult social care and children’s services the hardest hit. Anderson said that all council-run services, including libraries, sports centres, maintenance of parks, highway repairs, street cleaning and rubbish collections, would have to be cut by 50%.”

He added:

“If we closed all of our 19 libraries, scrapped our nine sports centres, cut all spend on culture, stopped maintaining the parks, halted all the highways repairs and street cleansing, and switched off 50,000 lights that would only save us £68m – and we need to find £90m.”

Before going ahead with the referendum the Council plans to create an online “budget simulator” presenting these absurdly rigged alternatives. The total budget is £1.286 billion.

I have written in the past about extravagant spending by Liverpool City Council.

This is a Council with £388 million of debt. It pays £12.3 million a year in debt interest. Will removing that spending item be an option on the “budget simulator”? It should be. This is a Council that owns farms, car parks, shops, hotels. Not to mention rather a lot of surplus land.  It owns £28 million of art works that it has no record of placing on display.

It is a council where the Council Tax Band D is already well above average at £1,650.

In Liverpool the basic councillors allowance is £10,077. That’s rather more than most London councillors get. Spending on allowances and staff for councillors comes to £2.3 million. Will a cut be offered in the “budget simulator”?

Or the 13.5 full time equivalent union officials whose salaries are paid by the Council Taxpayer? Or the six press officers?

How will this Council get on with its socialist message that the poor should face tax hikes to fund a chief executive’s £197.500 salary? Or a Director of Community Services on £140,000 or a Director of Finance and Resources at £140,000 or an Assistant Director Early Help on £90,000 or an Assistant Director Culture and Tourism on £90,000? Is the Council’s £4.88 million spending on “policy and partnerships” really necessary? Or £1.4 million for the elected Mayor’s own office of courtiers? Or the £8.5 million on “Legal and Democratic Services” on top of that?

Is the £6.1 million transport budget well spent? Liverpool Echo readers complain of wasteful spending on unnecessary traffic lights.

What about the 1,040 children in care in Liverpool? That figure equates to 115 per 10,000 of the child population in the city. The average for England is 60. In Halton it’s 85. In Knowsley it’s 89. Why is it so high in Liverpool? What is being done to place more children for adoption? Of those children in care do they really need to have 90 in children’s homes rather than with foster carers? Many are probably in mainstream education. The average cost of institutional children’s care is £126,000 – for some pretty disastrous outcomes. Is Liverpool Council’s £11.3 million a year spent on this really good value for money?

What practical benefit is derived from the Council’s £47.5 Million Public Health budget? How much is swallowed up in bureaucracy?