What do you mean ‘other services’?

2017-12-19 09.58.33At the General Purposes Committee (GPC) this week we considered the results of a recent consultation conducted with a view to informing the Council about residents’ views of council tax increases.

The results of the consultation were presented as being evidence that residents are not inclined to increase council tax beyond the 2% ‘social care precept’.

It’s perhaps not surprising. Question 10 of the consultation comprised three questions: how far do you support the following:

  • As part of the Counties (sic) current business plan; increase the County Council’s part of the Council Tax bill by 2% to help pay for care for adults, particularly the elderly
  • Not currently included, the County Council could also increase its part of the Council tax Bill by a further 1.99% (just under a 4% increase in total) to support other services
  • Not currently included, increasing the County Council’s part of the Council Tax by over 3.99% which would require a referendum of all voters in the County to approve the move.

A little more than 70% of respondents said that they supported the first proposal. Only 35% supported the second which is hardly surprising given that that there was no mention of what these ‘other services’ might be. Rather surprisingly 25% of respondents supported the last proposal.

We will never know of course but if the consultation had explained what ‘other services’ are maybe the result would have been quite different. Here’s a short list:

. Fill potholes
. Build schools
. Run libraries
. Provide homes for children who need them
. Help people to stop smoking
. Enable universal broadband provision
. Connect communities with bus services
. Run Park & Ride sites
. Help families with problems
. Build bridges, bypasses and busways
. Dispose of waste
. Enable all young people to get involved in music
. Grit roads in winter
. Run buses to take students to school

I could go on

There is no doubt that the Council has less money and needs to do more with it. And the work which it’s doing to become more efficient and to earn money from its assets is important and must be done. However the scale of the problem is such that it surely behoves it to utilise all available funds. Especially when many of its problems are demand driven and are only going to increase.

People say that we shouldn’t be flippant about raising taxes but let’s put this into context. The council tax on a band D property is currently £1630/year. That makes a 2% increase £32/year which is barely more than a cup of coffee each month on the high street.

The other relevant context is that most of the people who depend on council services or who would be disadvantaged by their withdrawal are the less well off. Isn’t it worth all of us chipping in the price of a cup of coffee every month in order to protect services for those who need them?

The reason we’re here is because the Council is in the grip of a group of ideological Tories who simply want to shrink the state regardless of the impact on the less well off. It’s this ideology which led to the questions above being framed as they were.

Rather surprisingly this is not universal. Other Conservative councils have happily raised council tax by the ‘full’ 3.99% in the past. Cambridgeshire does seem to be different and it’s ironic that many of its Tory councillors are from parts of the county with higher levels of deprivation and therefore in more need of ‘other services’.

As a rather surprising post script central government has just announced that council’s can raise tax by 3% before they need to call a referendum. Maybe we need to rerun the consultation in which case we could reword the second question above to make it clear what these ‘other services’ might be.

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