This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser
Paying more for worse services
I’ve just received my council tax notice with a 10.9% increase for 2017/18. As Mr Renard finally admitted in his column residents are paying more for less. These very high increases are the result of the flagrantly anti-democratic imposition of parishes on residents who patently did not want them. Even if it is legal for the council to charge us for services which they no longer provide it is politically and morally repugnant, and it certainly ought to be illegal.
This policy chimes well with central government’s gutting of public services. The decision to impose parishes has the impact of moving away from the concept of equalisation of services across the town regardless of the poverty or wealth of individual areas. What Mr Renard is presenting as ‘choice’ is bogus. If services are not provided by taxation at the town level then you can only chose what you can afford. His regime’s action will exacerbate inequalities across the town.
At the national level the government abandoned funding linked to an an assessment of needs in each area. In 2013 it ended annual assessment of local needs and began winding down revenue support grant. The move towards councils being funded by council tax and 100% business rates will entrench regional inequalities because richer areas raise more by these means than do poorer areas. For all the supposed success of Swindon the relatively low value of the housing stock means that the town takes in much less council tax than wealthier towns and cities. As for business rates they are falling.
Funding which is just linked to economic conditions inevitably rewards ‘success’ and punishes ‘failure’. This will entrench and deepen inequalities which are rooted in the historic decline of industry and the growing parasitism of the financial sector.
Mr Renard and co tell us that they are abandoning other services because they have to concentrate on social care. In reality we are seeing decay of the social and physical infrastructure of the town. As a recent age UK report shows many people who should be receiving social care are not, and many who do are receiving less than they need. Mr Renard’s regime is responsible for this situation insofar as it has gone along with the government’s abandonment of service provision related to actual needs. We see the social consequences in increased poverty and declining services. The six year council tax freeze of the ruling administration made a bad situation worse and guaranteed that sooner or later they would be forced to drive up council tax because their funding was running out. Their cuts will not ensure ‘sustainable services’ but will create worse services.
There is no way that even services for the elderly and the young can be sustained given the ending of central government grant. Our council should be saying so. Even the Tory Leader of the Local Government Association has said:
“Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums and leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes they will not have saved enough money to plug the gap by the end of the decade.”
The austerity programme has made matters worse and continues to drive up the national debt at the same time.