Friday, 3 April 2009

Part 1: Are we Monkeys, or are we Human?

Wellingborough’s Tory council are currently boasting about their “Good news for Wellingborough’s Council Tax payers” following their recent decision to freeze the Council Tax for 2009/10. They claim that it will be “making life easier for residents during the recession”. Even Wellingborough’s Tory MP, Peter Bone, jumped on the bandwagon and raised this triumphant news in Parliament: “Would the Minister like to conclude his statement by congratulating Councillor John Bailey and all the councillors at Wellingborough on the zero council tax increase this year?” Needless to say, the Minister’s reply was rather contemptuous.

So what does all this amount to?

Are Wellingborough’s Tories really helping people through the recession? Has there been some huge handout to the poorest (or anybody really!) who are struggling financially? Are the rich the beneficiaries yet again? What does this mean for improved council service? The simple answers to all these questions are “No”, “No”, “Yes” and “Not much if anything at all”!

The options before Wellingborough Council a few weeks ago were to either put up the council tax by 3% (like almost every other council in the country under all types of political leadership), or freeze it. We know what Wellingborough Tories did - and it will cost the Council around £90,000 next in lost revenue. So how much was "given away" to Borough households?

  • Nothing at all for 30% of all Band A council taxpayers, because they are so poor (either pensioners, the disabled, unemployed etc.,) that they don’t pay any council tax in the first place and therefore do not see or save a single penny!

  • Up to £1.80 per household per year for the remaining 70% of Band A Council tax payers (even less if they received some form of benefit)

  • Up to £2.73 per household per year for Band D council tax payers

  • £5.46 per household per year for those living in properties in the highest Council tax band (Band H).

Is this really something that warranted front page headlines in the Council’s LINK newspaper? Is it so earth-shattering that it warranted being raised in Parliament? Is this really going to make any difference whatsoever to those struggling with unemployment or reduced income as a result of the recession? The answer is clearly “No”!

This so-called freeze on council tax amounted to no more than a fart in a bath, a desperate public relations exercise being spun to it maximum. It did, however serve another unintended purpose: it showed precisely how much contempt Wellingborough Tories have for us, the values they hold in respect of fairness and equality and the kind of society they really want see. In short, it shows that the Tories think we are all stupid monkeys and we will be ecstatic with delighted because they have given us a few peanuts .....but even then the richest monkeys get significantly more peanuts than the poorest!

Most people are only too aware that a low, or lower, council tax does not necessarily mean better or improved services or make a real difference to people' lives during a recession.

The Council could (as I proposed at the Council meeting) have ear-marked the £90,000 raised by a 3% tax rise to really help people and groups through the recession. By way of an example:

Wellingborough Welfare Rights Advice Group (which I am proud to have been associated with for over 20 years), costs around £30,000 per
to run. It helps the poorest and most vulnerable in our
society to gain minimum levels of state support to survive and have some sort of quality of life. It helps over 700 people a year. In doing this work it generates approximately one million pounds a year in increased benefits from out of the Borough that would have gone unclaimed. In turn this three million pounds might generate a further three million pounds through something called "the multiplier effect" (if I spend money it goes to someone else, who in turn spends it again). So, by investing in better advice services (by spending £30,000) the local economy is boosted by around £7,000,000. Now we are talking! This will really help people in Wellingorough during a recession - and not just the poorest either.

A low council tax also does not mean that Wellingborough’s Tories are giving us value for money (even if they are charging less). We all know this – just because a cowboy (or girl) builder charges a cheap rate does not mean that they do a good job – in fact they can make things worse.

The independent, and hardly revolutionary or even mildly socialist, Audit Commission recently rated Wellingborough Council as “Poor” (a fall from “Excellent” under a previous Labour administration that I was proud to have been part of). The Audit Commission describes the Tory failures thus:

“Low expenditure is reflected in low council tax levels, though this is confused (by the current Tory Council – added by me) with good value for money”

“Low expenditure with average and declining services does not represent good value for money”.


I don’t thing the people of Wellingborough are so easily conned…. we are significantly more intelligent than the monkeys …. that they think we are!

Part 2 follows shortly. Watch this space.


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