Monday, May 18, 2009

Bower's Blueprint #1 - Keep Down Council Tax

This is the first of a series of posts on Bower's Blueprint for Coleridge - a set of pledges to which I would work if elected as county councillor on 4th June.

Keeping down council tax
Council tax has more than doubled since 1997 when Labour came into power.

More and more obligations have been passed on to local authorities, without adequate funding (such as the 'fully-funded' concessionary bus fares scheme that is now costing city taxpayers £1.5m per year).

We also have whole areas of activity that never used to happen - or not to the same extent. 'Partnership working' between authorities and quangos is now a massively bureaucratic activity, consuming vast amounts of senior management time. The whole process is given fancy names like Comprehensive Area Assessment and Local Area Agreements, but the result is less accountability for individual authorities and greater emphasis on meeting government targets. Costs are vast and unquantifiable, benefits are almost non-existent.

Whole new areas have opened up, like community engagement as a separate exercise, rather than just an intrinsic part of what the Council does (witness the city council's area committee's costing over £100 per member of the public who attends). And the climate change agenda pursued by councils could be seen as more about feeling good and being seen to be concerned, than tackling the real issues of climate change and energy security (like how we make the major technological changes required to the production, distribution and use of energy to avoid dependence on fossil fuels at a national or international level).

Councils are governed by targets - with councils monitoring hundreds of targets, many of which are only to help meet the latest eye-catching government initiative, so that more ring-fenced cash can be 'won' as local councils become ever more like branch offices of Whitehall.

As if this wasn't bad enough, many local people are now losing their jobs (we are coming across people on the doorstep whose main concern now is how they are going to pay the mortgage). The last thing they needed was the 4.5% council tax rise from Cambridge City Council. The county council responded to economic concerns by making savings and reducing the planned council tax rise to below 4% but we need to go further. The Conservatives have promised that if councils can keep rises to 2.5%, the government will match this from cuts in central advertising and keep council tax rises to zero. Keeping council tax rises below 2.5% should be the minimum we aim for.

Enough is enough! It is time for local councils to say we do NOT need to waste our money on armies of bureaucrats ticking boxes for a dying government’s targets.

Our Councils need to focus on basic provision of services, like social services and direct funding of schools. We desperately need more money going into potholes and highways maintenance.

This can be achieved by acting now to reduce resources spent monitoring and meeting hundreds of government targets, that no-one wants and no-one needs, and ruthlessly finding real efficiency savings. Councils like Conservative-run Hammersmith and Fulham have proved this is possible - they have just cut council tax again.

Labour just doesn't get it. Britain cannot afford the size of the state that Labour has created. Difficult decisions need to be made both nationally and locally, to balance the books - this is the only way to get us out of the terrible economic mess that Gordon Brown's boom and bust has created.

Labour's candidate in Coleridge is also Labour's parliamentary candidate in South Cambridgeshire - his job is to support Gordon Brown and his approach to government: carry on spending regardless of the economic consequences. This is the last thing taxpayers need from the county council.


NickW said...

Good post Andrew

When I worked for a certain Council in a middle level management role in charge of a frontline service the waste and bureacracy imposed by senior management was beyond belief.

You are absolutely right - the whole partnership working concept by and large is an empire building scam that does nothing to improve services for ordinary people.

To be fair to rank and file council staff they want to provide a good service and do a good job, the public want and rightly expect it. It is just council bureacracy and dogma getting in the way.

Local govt should be cut back to it's core statutory services that provide functions that cannot be met by the private sector. In district Councils this is social housing, planning, building control, waste services, street cleaning, environmental health.

At Cambridge if they took this approach you could half the workforce without anyone noticing any difference.

The tiers of management at Cambridge in the upper levels are obscene - several Directors on salaries just short of six figures managing large numbers of Service Heads on salaries above £60K. Both tiers would benefit a wholesale cull.

There we go, I have found about a Million pounds of saving already!

Richard Taylor said...


I wonder if you've been told that Cllr Dryden addressed the position taken by "the Conservative County Council Candidate for Coleridge" (you) during the Cambridge City Council annual general meeting on the 21st of May. Noting that you are a supporter of Marshall's business and a supporter of reducing Council Tax he said: "if he wins he'll have the whip taken away".

Ian Nimmo-Smith weighed in saying: "It might be perplexing for people to know what they're voting for if they're following the blues".

I support your opposition to those trying to bully Marshall's off their airport site so it can be used for housing; I support your desire to keep council tax down and I support your opposition to a congestion charge for Cambridge. However the current Conservative administration on the County Council has pushed the "growth agenda" and the congestion charge and has raised council tax by 3.9% this year while amassing ever increasing reserves.

Is councillor Dryden right? What do you think the chances are you'll find yourself with the whip withdrawn and sitting as an, albeit unwilling, independent?

Some discussion on this point has already occurred on my website.

Andrew Bower said...

Hi Richard,

Apologies for the fact that your post has only just been approved - Chris moderates comments and forgot to publish this one - it was not intentional!

I am sure I would have enjoyed witnessing this banter at the city council meeting! Of course the conclusion is wildly exaggerated - but I would expect nothing less.

The county council included Marshall's in its plan at the request of David Howarth's city council. This is why it is important for Cambridge residents to vote Conservative.

As for pushing the growth agenda, they have had the growth agenda pushed ONTO them! I would of course be pushing for greater resistance to be shown in the time before, voter willing, we get a Conservative government that will remove the ridiculous housing targets.

There is nothing new about Conservatives wanting to get more value for less taxpayer money - it should be every Conservative's duty!

But the bottom line is, if pursuing my pledges took me out of line with the whips, so be it. Do I think that is remotely likely? No.