Sefton Council are presently consulting on changes to how Council tax is levied on empty houses and uninhabitable houses – you can access the on-line consultation via the link below:-
In the light of recent local Conservative claims that all of Southport’s money is being spent in Bootle (a rather coarse popularist approach which tries to pinch more sophisticated Lib Dem clothes) I thought I would revisit my piece on this matter from 2015 – you can access that blog via the link below:-
Mm well, my views have not changed and I still think that Sefton is a geographically bizarre Borough and that this situation can only be changed for the better by looking at West Lancashire Borough at the same time.
West Lancashire is not a unitary authority its a District Council within a County so all its major services are provided by Lancashire County Council – Highways, Social Services etc. And thereby hangs the major problem to changing local government boundaries locally – It’s not comparing like with like. West Lancs, for example, is only an Associate member of Liverpool City Region so it can’t really sit at the same table as the big boys and girls. That’s a problem as it means that West Lancs finds it hard to have much of an influence and it means the boundary between it and Sefton/The Liverpool City Region is more like a barrier to progress all round.
Do you remember when John Prescott was all-powerful in the Blair Government years and he came up with a plan to split West Lancs in half putting one half into Wigan Metropolitan Borough and one half into Sefton Borough? Yes, there were significant issues about where the splitting boundary should be but frankly, it was not a bad plan it just needed fleshing out and developing. What actually happened was that it fell off the table and was not pursued at all. The effect has been to keep West Lancs in a weak position within Lancashire (where it has always struggled to make its voice heard) and it, in effect, stopped Sefton Borough being able to review it’s own somewhat bizarre geography.
My personal view is that until local government, in general, is reorganised to make all councils unitary i.e. getting rid of the outdated split between District and County Councils in the shire counties (thereby finding a fix for out on a limb West Lancs) then fixing Sefton will be very difficult indeed.
That the Lib Dems and before them the former Liberal Party has been leading the charge to fix Sefton’s bizarre geography ever since 1974 is a given but what about the oft-made claims that one part of the Borough is subsidising another? Does this argument have any basis in fact? It’s probably true of all council areas where there’s a part or parts of it which are poorer and therefore more disadvantaged that council expenditure has traditionally been higher in the poorer communities to try to pull those areas up and support the social/community infrastructure. So in Sefton, the poorer areas are obviously significant parts of Bootle but also parts of Southport. Yes, Southport clearly has it’s affluent areas but like most UK seaside towns it has its fair share of poorer districts too with all the social, low paid seasonal work and housing issues that go with seaside towns.
The problem with poorer areas though in local government finance terms is not just where the money is spent but how it is raised. By this, I mean that in poorer areas there are far more Band A properties in Council tax speak. This means they generate less income for the Council running the area. Merseyside, in general, suffers from this problem and it means that Councils can’t raise anything like the amount of Council tax that more affluent areas of England can.
Austerity, as it’s been applied to local government finance, has had the effect of making poorer council areas poorer because they have become more reliant on the Council tax they can raise locally rather than on government grants which used top up/prop up their services. This is probably the basis of some saying that community ‘X’ is having its money spent in community ‘Y’ and on a crude popularist level there’s a case to hear where you have a council area with wealth in some parts but poverty in others. Put it this way, if you have a council area where 50% of it is affluent and 50% is poor then the effect will be (if you run your council services at the same level across the borough) that the affluent areas will be subsidising the poorer areas.
The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not just about where a council spends its money, which may well be unbalanced across its area, but its’ also about how it raises the money that it spends too. OK, I’ve simplified the case for illustrative purposes but I hope you get my drift.
The bottom line is that with Council tax being a property based tax as opposed to one that is based on the ability to pay then such problems will always be the case. And of course, it is why Liberals and Lib Dems have consistently argued for a Local Income tax to replace Council tax ever since Council tax was introduced as a quick fix following the Poll Tax troubles of the 1980s. Both Conservatives and Labour oppose a fairer local taxation system based on the ability to pay and want to keep our property value based tax.
So you could say and indeed I do say that Sefton as a Borough is unbalanced both geographically and in local government finance terms. That it has a ‘viable’ future is more down to the fact that governments, of any colour, have failed to act on the root causes of its difficulties than anything else. My solutions are:-
* Bring in a Local Income Tax and scrap the unfair Council tax
* Reorganise those areas of England that still have District and County Councils so that all councils are unitary
* Empower communities to run far more services at a very local level
I recently raised the issue of our Metro Mayor wanting you to dig deeper into your pockets to pay for his staff, wages and office running costs but of course we also have a Police and Crime Commissioner too and guess what they want you to dig deeper as well! Here’s a link to my post regarding the Metro Mayor’s grab for your pocket:-
As for the Police and Crime Commissioner here’s what they are demanding in the next Council tax year beginning April 2019:-
My point is that I am very far from convinced that we need a Police and Crime Commissioner and the jury is certainly out over the Metro Mayor post because the 3rd rate devolved powers to the Merseyside Mayor make it hard to justify the cost of having one.
Bizarrely, both posts are the creation of the Conservatives who used to claim they wanted to keep the rates/Council tax down!
Whilst I was never a member of if it, in my time as a Borough Councillor or Council leader, my impression was that the former Police Committee made up of councillors from across Merseyside worked well and it was one of those things that was not broken and did not need fixing. But the Tories knew best and had been taken in by the American way of running Council areas with elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners. Why they didn’t go the whole hog and call the P&CC’s Police Chiefs and give them a fancy uniform I don’t know.
But hey you get the grand positions and then surprise, surprise they want paying, they want to hire staff and they need premises to operate from. Seems the Tories have simply added folks to the public payroll and frankly what do we have to show for our generous ‘donations’ to either cause?
And before you ask, no I’m not saying that we all don’t have to chip in to run local services, it’s just that I don’t believe adding more glorified posts to the local payroll is the way to do it.
With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting
Click on the chart above to enlarge it
The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link below:-
Recalling my 16 years as a Sefton Councillor (1999 to 2015) my recollection is that Sefton has always been pretty good at collecting Council tax i.e. it collects more than many other councils. And it’s clear from this Echo article that the Council is willing to chase up Council tax debt through the courts.
Council tax is a poor and unfair and regressive tax because it is based on the value of land/property rather than the ability to pay. A poor person can end up living in a large house with high Council tax with the person next door paying the same amount of Council tax whilst being wealthy. We need a new form of Local Income tax to re-balance such a badly targeted tax to pay for council services.
But, until we get a fairer tax system to fund councils, my experience of talking to Sefton residents is that they expect all householders to pay their way as they do. So my guess is that there’s little sympathy out there for those who don’t pay, although there well may be for those who are trapped in larger properties on low incomes and who can’t pay.
The Southport Visiter has the story on its web site – see link above
Whilst this plea for Merseyside Council tax payers to cough up more to counter the lack of government funds for our local Bobbies is hardly going to go down well, as our Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy obviously knows, there are some other interesting issues to look into.
I covered this issue not so long ago and my previous posting is available via this link:-
But one aspect of the Commissioner’s press release, as quoted by the Southport Visiter, caught my attention – her reference to the cost of the increased policing on Council tax bills at band ‘A’, which she tells us is the most common Council tax band on Merseyside.
That Band A is the most common highlights a big problem that many urban local authorities have who raise money via Council tax. You can’t raise much money when many of the properties in your area are only contributing at Band A. Just think how much easier it is for those local authorities where the majority of households are in band D and above. Another example of how unfair Council tax is – we need a local tax that works and is fair, a local income tax based on the ability to pay not the value of your property.
Oh and by the way the other point about Jane Kennedy quoting tax at band ‘A’ is that in my experience the illustrative band used over many years has been at band ‘D’. Why did she choose to illustrate the additional cost at band ‘A’ other than for the reason she has stated of course?
With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting
The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above
Now this is an interesting story and it shows how deep the cuts in local government funding have gone. Whether Surrey County Council’s Tory rulers will follow through with this significant rise remains to be seen though.
Locally the elected Labour Mayor of Liverpool was talking about a big hike in Council tax a few weeks ago only to back off when the unpopularity of it became apparent.
BUT it is clear to all of us that social care for the elderly across England is slowly but surely falling apart due to funding cuts. So one way or another we are going to have to pay more whether that be in national or local taxes. If this crisis, which mirrors the similar crisis in the NHS, is not tackled and soon we will no long be able to call ourselves a civilised country. Deliberately under funding care for the elderly is appalling.
With thanks to Roy Connell for spotting the BBC story.