Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
I often write about the need for councillors to take a cut in their allowances, or at the very least not to increase them. What often gets overlooked is whether a local authority has too many members in the first place. I was interested to read that after a review by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE), Tunbridge Wells is set to cut its councillors from 48 to 39. This is due to a “disparity between the number of electors and councillors”.
To my mind, this is good news for taxpayers. With a basic allowance for a Tunbridge Wells councillor currently set at £5,500, culling nine members will bring savings of at least £49,500 per year. Additional expenses like mileage and subsistence claims should also fall as a result. Some will question the effect cutting councillor numbers will have on democracy but I suppose there’s no obvious reason why the decision couldn’t be reversed if needed.
Looking through data from LGBCE it’s interesting to note how many councils in England meet the criteria for review, 84 to be precise. It could be the case that some authorities have too few councillors and this should be rectified. But where numbers are too high, I think it’s vital that action is taken to make much-needed savings for taxpayers. I’m keen to delve into this further so please drop me an email with your thoughts and what’s happening in your area.
Council must remember its duty to taxpayers
News from Wales now as Gwynedd Council is seeking to give its staff the day off for St David’s Day. It is of course understandable and indeed patriotic that they wish to honour this historic day. However, at an estimated cost of £200,000 to the public purse, I seriously urge them to reconsider.
Looking through the council’s website, I would suggest that staff already receive generous leave and benefits. Annual leave entitlement ranges from 21 to 30 days per year, plus “eight days leave for bank and public holidays, as well as an additional 3 and a half days”. Similarly, staff can also enjoy flexible working hours, job sharing, free car parking at most council sites and potentially early retirement at 55!
I suspect many who work in the private sector – particularly those on lower incomes who are more greatly impacted by Council Tax – can only dream of such perks. Working in the public sector should mean you have an overriding duty to work hard for taxpayers and ensure they get the best services possible.
Last year the Council Tax in Gwynedd increased by 3.9 per cent. Its Band D bills are £107 higher than the average for Wales. At £1,838 it has the sixth-highest bills in Wales for 2021-22. That means 108 Band D bills will be covering the £200,000 cost of this day off.
I think it’s clear for all to see that the council has a duty to ensure its staff are at their desks and working hard to avert another council tax rise in 2022-23. But how about this for a compromise? If Gwynedd council can cut council tax by 3.9 (or greater) this year and maintain frontline services then I think they would merit a well-earned day off.
Poor decisions continue to haunt councils
Recent developments in Slough and Warrington have once again highlighted how costly poor decision-making can be. You may recall that Slough purchased its current headquarters for £39 million and spent a further £8.5 million on a Silicon Valley style interior refurbishment. Fast forward a few years and things are now so bad that the council is considering selling its glitzy HQ to make ends meet. Still, this could be your opportunity to grab a bargain on padded work pods, astroturf and an array of bean bags!
In Warrington, the nightmare that is council energy companies has reared its ugly head once again. The authority has a 50 per cent stake in Together Energy which unfortunately has just gone bust. Taxpayers are on the hook for an estimated £52 million. By my calculations, this is the fourth council energy company to go bust with losses totalling around £140 million. How long before the remaining companies go bust given many of them have balance sheets in the red. My advice to councils, get out of this sector now before it’s too late!