Last week Observer said you will be paying more council tax from April but services will get worse. Is there a workable solution?
To remind you, last week’s column indicated that rises in council tax were helping tighten family budgets at a time when wage growth was negligible.
Ways have to be found, I would argue, to control the expenditure of councils.
In the last decade, they have cut, pared back and reduced services, while income from central government has fallen. It has affected the police and fire brigade too.
The burden has been shifted from central government taxation to local government taxation.
The notion has some merit in that there can be more democratic control of spending.
For example, if we don’t like the tax and spending plans of our town, district and county councils we can vote them all out: they have to stand for re-election every four years.
Now to possible solutions
One suggestion is for councils to consider a ‘ground zero’ approach by only carrying out the tasks they have a statutory DUTY to provide.
They do, however, have a wider range of powers which they MAY exercise. Such services are optional.
The list of duties for a town (and parish) council is miniscule.
If Uckfield went to such an approach, for example, there would be no parks, pleasure grounds, public halls and much more besides.
That’s ground zero, something few would perhaps deem desirable or necessary at this stage.
As you go up the heirachy, the district council will have more duties and the county more – adult social care being one of them.
However, the best suggestion I have heard in the last seven days came from a good friend who said the solution was to sweep away one whole tier of local government. He proposed it work like this in our neck of the woods:
- A Sussex Strategic Authority, (covering both East and West) to deal with all the issues of long-term planning and development, including health, police and fire.
- A second tier council, on a much more local scale dealing with the implementation of strategic policies, developing more local projects and managing the day-to-day delivery of services.
The proposal, as put to me, would see the closure of county halls in Lewes and Chichester and replaced with a new centralised authority, with perhaps only 50 elected members at most, and led by a cadre of expert officers.
The other tier would be much more local, for example in this area, Crowborough, Uckfield, Forest Row and surrounding communities. It could well be that the heads of service would be responsible for two or three of these authorities, ensuring the focus was on staff who delivered direct to the public.
After all, he said, just how many chief executives and heads of finance do you need? And, his argument continued, there would be far fewer councillors needed.
The final comment from my friend as he went out the door to catch the train was:
“Keep doing the same thing, you will get the same results.”
It’s well known saying in business and one that many subscribe to.
The trouble with local government is that change comes at a snail’s pace, and in any case, changes on the scale my friend suggests need Acts of Parliament and it does seem MPs and the government have their hands full for next 12 months or so.
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