and Medway Messenger
15th March 2004
What a situation we have been put in over Council Tax! After a lengthy debate in the Council Chamber last Monday, with accusations and attacks flying in all directions, we decided on an increase of just under ten per cent for the forthcoming municipal year.
This had been brought down from the earlier figures that were reported in the local media, in two swathes of savings, in order to avoid the risk of being "capped" by the government—although oddly enough the Minister does not apparently know what criteria he will apply when deciding which if any councils to cap!
We are now being forced by the government Minister (Nick Raynsford) to make several service cuts, going very much against the grain with my Conservative colleagues and me. Thankfully we have been able to make most of these cuts very modest, but the latest additions, prompted by discussions with the Minister last week, are unavoidably a bit more serious.
Interesting, isn't it, that the Minister and his Labour comrades are perfectly happy to take ever more millions of pounds from the people of Medway in spiralling national taxes, but are unwilling to return anywhere near enough of it to the people to maintain locally-delivered services.
And yes, it is the Labour government who have created the present situation, as can be easily shown.
Occam's razor proves that it is not individual local authorities that have been causing high increases in Council Tax during the Labour years: nationally the rise has been no less than 60% since Labour came to power. The average Band D in the whole country, just £689 in 1997-98, is in this current year a whopping £1,102, which, incidentally, puts Medway's modest £824 into context...
We can therefore safely eliminate local authorities as a whole from the equation.
Unless every council in the country suddenly "went bad" all at once, as soon as Labour came to power nationally, and they have all stayed that way since, the only possible cause for this national rise in local tax rates is Government underfunding of local authorities.
This truth could be hidden only so long, and now that it has come to more widespread public notice, it is clear what we all have to do if we do not want this situation to repeat itself year after year.
Like a good doctor who notes the symptoms of an illness, but tackles the real cause, we too must tackle the cause of this national cancer—the Labour government—while being aware that Council Tax rises and service reductions are merely symptoms of the illness. The only way for Medway people to proceed is to make it clear to our local Labour MPs, and the government in general, that they will be losing many, many votes at the next General Election over this issue -- and we must really mean it.
We will be doing ourselves, and everyone else in Britain, a great service for all our futures.
John Ward Vice-chairman, Finance & Performance Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Medway Council