While most councils in England will be freezing or cutting the Council Tax, in Wales there will be a different pattern. Unfortunately the Labour-run Welsh Government is not providing the carrot of extra funding for councils that avoid an increase. Nor is it imposing the stick of referendum approval being required for increases over two per cent. There is also the lack of accountability that English councils face of spending transparency.
Anglesey is increasing Council Tax by five per cent. Labour-run Bridgend by “almost” five per cent. Pembrokeshire by 3.4 per cent. Monmouthshire by three per cent. Labour-run Cardiff is contemplating a rise of over two per cent which would mean breaking an election pledge. This is on top of above inflation Council Tax increases in most Welsh councils last year. In Labour-run Blaenau Gwent the Council Tax is already £1,526 at Band D. No doubt they will pile on further agony for their residents this year.
There is a wider point. At the General Election next year a verdict will be delivered on the coalition Government. Labour in England must be put under pressure to condone or disown their Welsh comrades. If they are disowning them, they should explain why a Labour Government in Westminster would be any better. So the Conservative Party should talk a lot more about the failings of the Labour-run Welsh Government. This is not just to encourage the Welsh people to vote Conservative in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections, although that is an important mission. It is also to encourage the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to reflect on the striking contrast in fortunes and to vote Conservative in the UK General Election next year.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has been doing his bit this week. On Monday he contrasted the Welsh and English experience on refuse collection and home ownership. On Wednesday he spoke on the alternative policies on building new homes between England and Wales:
For all of Labour’s lame attempts at policy making, we can see what Labour would be like in reality, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) suggested. In Wales, where housing is devolved, Labour runs the Administration, and its record on housing there is a disaster. According to the National House-Building Council, while new home registrations are up in England, they have fallen successively in Wales. Labour has hit the housing market with extra red tape, adding £13,000 to the cost of a new home with measures ranging from building regulations, to fire sprinklers and waste-site management plans. House builders, Redrow, say that due to the burden of regulation:
“Wales is the most difficult area in the UK in which to operate”.
Persimmon Homes has pulled out of development in south Wales and the construction firm, Watkin Jones, has shifted its development to England rather than Wales.
Labour failed to support the housing market, and has belatedly introduced a help to buy equity loan scheme. Watkin Jones added that “it is difficult to comprehend why the Welsh Assembly Government are failing to recognise the importance of following the UK Government’s lead in getting much needed homes built.”
The Welsh Government, true to Labour form, has slashed right to buy. In microcosm, this is the real face of Labour: high tax, high regulation, the enemy of the free market, and the enemy of aspiration.
We need to hear more about Wales from Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt. David Cameron should talk about Wales much more in TV interviews, speeches and Prime Minister’s Question Time. So far Ed Miliband and the Shadow Cabinet have been able to get away without mentioning the place. But it is the most important, most current, example in the UK of what Labour is like in power.