Council Tax going up, don’t blame us, blame them!

The simple ‘vote for us to pay less tax’ slogan has always been a feature, and often a very effective one, of Conservative campaigning.  In 1992 I remember being told by a lifelong Labour supporter on Tyneside that, with a heavy heart, they would be voting Conservative as they couldn’t afford to find £1250 extra tax a year (the Labour tax bombshell poster had been prominently displayed at the rundown shopping centre between boarded up shops).

In Cheshire East this year the ruling Conservatives stood on a ticket of being proud of keeping Council Tax to a zero increase again and promising the same next year albeit at a County level.  This obviously appealed to the voters and they maintained their position of power, but for most people in the County they will get a shock next year when the bill arrives to find it has gone up.  However the Tories will be able to say don’t blame us we stuck to our promise.

Labour Tax Bombshell

The Labour Tax Bombshell - masterful political positioning?

The reason for this; it’s the fault of those small town and parish councils, with a number looking at possibly 50% increases in their precepts.  This is because town and parish councils have been backed into a corner by the County Council ridding itself of as many non statutory duties as possible.  In my town in Cheshire this is currently a Civic Hall, Allotments and public toilets as the main issues in the current year.  The choice being offered is simple, town and parish councils can either take these services over, with minimal financial incentive, or they close.  Heads you lose, as residents get angry at rising Council Tax after being told it would not go up or tails you lose as the residents blame you for the closure both of which perpetuate the ‘politicians are all liars’ construct.

The positioning of the Tories to escape blame is quite sophisticated.  In May all out elections took place for both the County and Town Council seats, and locally for Labour and Lib Dems the County Candidates also sought (and gained) seats on the Town Council.  Despite running a slick professional, if low key campaign, Tory candidates didn’t contest the Town council seats, so absolving themselves of any blame, next year when the rises occur.

In an interesting parallel development, after years of prevaricating and dubious tactics to avoid ‘Red Crewe’ getting a town council, things there are changing apace too. Crewe is a Labour enclave in ‘Blue Cheshire’, with prior to May this year all their 6 out of 82 county council seats there. Ensuring that no powerbase was built had been a Conservative priority along with maintaining Edward Timpson MP’s hold on the town, following the defeat of the Labour campaign in the by-election following Gwyneth Dunwoody’s death in 2008.  Having responded to petitioning for a Town Council with a seemingly wilfully obscure referendum designed to be rejected, the Council are now actively looking at getting a town council in place by 2012.  This body will have the power to run services and importantly set the precept, what price no Conservatives standing their either?

Devolution and Localism as concepts are good; it is the way they are cloaked that causes concern.  The Council tax take won’t decrease and that in itself should save services, the concern is the subterfuge involved.  In the initial proposals there was a sum of £600k for transition assistance across the authority which without explanation has become £200k.

As more cuts come into place this will become more common practise as the austerity programme bites, and has many pluses for the community especially around community ownership of assets, a key plank of the government’s agenda which makes the manoeuvrings even more bizarre.  The administration is putting in place a key Conservative policy, but in doing so handing the assets to key opponents who can take all the credit if it goes well.  Maybe this truly is altruistic devolution in its purest sense, or is it just a tactical gamble, I would argue that their main message they are hoping to give is that voting Conservative won’t cost you money, its the others that do that.

If unitary authorities are going to be looking at shedding more functions, the process is likely to accelerate following publication this week of the review of statutory duties and suggestions of what should go (http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/decentralisation/tacklingburdens/reviewstatutoryduties ). Those hoping it will mean a decrease in their Council Tax will be disappointed, but they should think carefully where to place the blame.

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Posted on July 4, 2011, in Comment, Conservative Party, Labour Party, Local Government and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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