I have attached a letter from Gordon Henderson, which sits pretty well with the announcement in the Press that the Government is thinking of revaluing our property on an Annual Basis so our Council Tax can be assessed regularly. This is just another way of cutting back on Council Grants with the excuse “The property value has increased so therefore you can charge more Council Tax” and another absurd idea is where they will pay Tax Inspectors a £2000 bonus to catch Tax Dodgers (I thought that what they were paid for any way) all this will do is for them to pick on the small businesses and self employed. This government is content on destroying this country.
Date: 6th January 2007
Release date: Immediate
Subject: Scrapping Swale Borough Council could add £345 to our council tax bills
Council tax will rise under the Labour Government’s plans for major town hall restructuring, Gordon Henderson warned today.
Ministers in Whitehall are planning to pass a new law to give themselves unprecedented new powers to scrap either district or county councils. The Government will be able to force changes on local communities, including creating new councils that completely disregard existing shire boundaries. In our case, the Government’s preference will probably be to make Kent a unitary authority and abolish Swale Borough Council.
Yet research by Cambridge University has estimated that the reorganisation costs of converting two-tier councils to unitary councils could be in the region of £121 per head, and “there is every prospect that on-going costs would in fact be increased”. Such a bill would be equivalent to £345 per council tax-paying household. Police authorities across England are already facing extra costs for their now-cancelled plans to restructure.
Northern Ireland is being used as a testing ground for the drastic council restructuring. Plans there to reduce the number of councils from 26 council to just 7, are to cost £143 million. Identifiable localities like North Down will become part of anonymous ‘East Local Government District’.
Conservatives are warning that the real agenda of the Government is to undermine local identities – replacing well-understood, historic boroughs and counties with ‘sub-regional’ unitary hybrids that have little popular support. In turn, more power will be transferred to the unelected regional assemblies, based on the EU / Government Office of the Region boundaries.
Gordon Henderson said:
‘Yet another restructuring of local government will do nothing to improve local services and could make town halls more distant from local people. I am very concerned that working families and pensioners, already suffering from punishing council tax hikes, could see their bills rise by up to £345, with little likelihood of any long-term savings.
‘Just as with the cancelled police force reorganisation, Labour’s real agenda is regionalisation by stealth. If England’s boroughs and counties are wiped off the map and replaced with ‘sub-regional’ hybrids, it will weaken local identities and create a vacuum in which the unelected regional assemblies will suck up yet more power. If the Government really wanted to save money, it should start by scrapping John Prescott’s tiers of regional bureaucrats.
‘I believe that all Kent’s borough councils are opposed to these plans, I just hope that the Government listens to our local representatives and doesn’t simply ride roughshod over their views.’
Notes to Editors
NEW GOVERNMENT POWERS TO SCRAP COUNTIES AND BOROUGHS
The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which will shortly be debated in Parliament, gives unprecedented power to the Government to scrap traditional councils and impose unitary councils, including those that cross county boundaries. The power is given to the Secretary of State to do so “where he believes it would be in the interests of effective and convenient local government”.
In October 2006, the Government invited councils across England’s shires to make bids for unitary status by January 2007 - in other words, bidding to abolishing either the district/borough or county councils.
COST OF LOCAL GOVERMENT RESTRUCTURING
During the last local government reorganisation, Humberside County Council (John Prescott’s local council) spent £53 million in one-off reorganisation administrative costs in 1998 (Hansard, 18 November 1998, col. 658W). Using Humberside as a benchmark figure, abolishing the remaining 34 county councils could cost up to £1.8 billion in 1998 figures – equivalent to £2.2 billion today.
New research by Cambridge University has highlighted the costs of local government restructuring. Emeritus Professor Michael Chisholm has warned:
· “There is no reason to suppose that the conversion of districts to unitary status would be particularly relevant in raising the performance of councils in the discharge of their current district functions” (p.21).
· Reorganisation costs will be in the range of £121 per head (p.24).
· “In financial terms, however, the evidence shows that it is unrealistic to suppose that the creation of a single unitary council in an otherwise two-tier county area would generate financial savings, and that there is every prospect that on-going costs would in fact be increased... [there is] every reason to suppose that on-going costs would be increased, thereby providing no return on the cost of the change” (p.26-27).
Emeritus Professor Michael Chisholm, Cambridge University, Critique of the INLOGOV Document: An Independent Review of the Case for Unitary Status, September 2006.
Conservatives have estimated that £121 per capita is the equivalent of £345 per council tax-paying household (methodology: the English population is 50.4 million, whilst there are 22.1 million homes on the council tax valuation list; 20 per cent of homes pay no council tax since they are on 100% council tax benefit).
NORTHERN IRELAND – TESTING GROUND FOR ENGLAND
As a testing ground for the forthcoming English council tax revaluation, Labour Ministers are already rolling out a revaluation in Northern Ireland in April, with a revised system of local taxation – a house price tax. From April 2007, the average tax rate will be 0.633%, applied to the home’s value to calculate the yearly bill.
In addition to the house price tax, the Government are merging the councils across Northern Ireland, into anonymous, arbitrary hybrids: entitled the Belfast Local Government District, Inner East Local Government District, Inner East Local Government District, Inner East Local Government District, Inner East Local Government District, Inner East Local Government District and the North East Local Government District. The only political party to support these proposals in Northern Ireland is Sinn Fein.
The Government admitted last week that the cost is likely to be as much as £143 million – equivalent to £204 per household (there are 700,000 households in Northern Ireland) – but would be higher once those on benefits are excluded and the burden is placed on rate-paying households. The cost in England would be higher, since NI councils provider fewer services (many are provided by quangos).
“Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) what the total estimated one-off restructuring costs are for the local government reorganisation in Northern Ireland; what (a) central and (b) regional funding the Government is providing to local councils to assist with the costs of the local government reorganisation; if the Government will publish the business case for local government reorganisation in Northern Ireland.
David Cairns: Initial research by consultants to inform decisions in relation to the Review of Public Administration in Northern Ireland, which included the reform of local government, indicated that the costs associated with the reorganisation of local government would range between £47 million and £143 million.
At this stage no additional funding has been provided by central government to local councils to assist with the costs of the local government organisation. I am, however, working closely with local government as Chair of the Local Government Taskforce, to develop a more detailed estimate of the costs associated with implementation of the Review of Public Administration’s decisions in relation to local government. The business case being developed will be used by Government to inform decisions on any funding to be provided to local government to assist with implementation. Consideration will be given to the publication of the business case at a later date.”
Hansard, 4 December 2006, col. 95W.