Frank Little

Candidate for Pelenna in 20th June by-election Learn more

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The sort of decision a community councillor has to make

by franklittle on 25 January, 2012

I couldn’t possibly comment on the discussion that went into setting the Blaenhonddan precept for 2012/13, for reasons stated earlier, but I found this posting from a Liberal Democrat parish councillor in England summed up well what invidious choices face community councillors. In passing, I should say that I am glad that the Welsh Government did not apply our share of the “Pickles money” towards council-tax freezing, as the Welsh Conservatives wanted, but to education, as demanded by Kirsty Williams.

Not only has Eric Pickles failed to extend his largesse to Parish Councils, but he now accuses me of failing in my moral duty by increasing the Parish precept by 13%.
I would love to freeze our share of the council tax this year. But I can’t – the numbers simply don’t add up.

Like councillors around the country, I have a legal obligation to secure the finances of my authority. Each year, we fret about balancing the books, about long-term sustainability, about maintaining essential services, about protecting our staff and treating them with respect. Even in good years, difficult choices are made, but in hard ones…
Some of my colleagues on principal authorities have concluded that, rather than take the ‘bribe’ equivalent to a 2.5% increase on the previous year’s budget, they will increase council tax. Their logic is that, one day, the bribes will stop and, when they do, the gap between income and expenditure will need to be bridged by a large increase in the precept. A little basic arithmetic tends to support their contention.
Others argue that it is better to protect council taxpayers this year, accepting the likelihood of a big increase for 2013/14. And if you’re up for election in 2012, one can see the political attraction. Or, if you hope that the economy will improve so that the increase will seem less painful, it is entirely logical.

But, whatever decision they’ve taken, it has been one which has not been taken lightly. And given that Eric’s largesse has no impact on the deficit, and that it is being paid for by taxpayers, I thoroughly object to him bandying around the phrase ‘moral duty’. It is my moral duty to do the best for my community – all of my community. That may mean cutting costs, it may mean increasing council tax levels.

And by the way, Eric, you’ve just passed a Localism Bill, giving me a power of general competence. The idea was that local councils were to be trusted to get on with things without vast layers of central bureaucracy or diktat. For pity’s sake man, read the memo. Or, if it’s all too complex, it’s your moral duty to get someone to explain it to you. I’d ask Andrew Stunell [Liberal Democrat minister in the Department of Communities and Local Government], if I were you…
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