Brighton & Hove Council to increase council tax

November 11, 2011 4:48 PM

A BBC Politics Show South East report last weekend explained how Brighton & Hove City Council plan to increase council tax by 3.5 per cent. They are one of the only councils to publicly admit to rejecting money from the Government to freeze tax instead.

As Helen Drew explains, the council could have accepted £3 million from central government. However, this was turned down in favour of raising council tax to gain £4 million.  The council said that the extra £1 million was necessary in order to maintain local services. This misses the point somewhat. As many innovative councils have shown, it is possible to make savings which don’t affect local services - take Newham for example.

Admittedly it is a little disappointing that councils need an incentive to freeze council tax in the first place, but the measure is a welcome one for struggling families. However, Cllr Jason Kitcat, Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services at Brighton & Hove City Council, wrote:

“Brighton & Hove is not the kind of place where we want to give up on the elderly, marginalised or vulnerable – those most in need of help. We believe in civilisation, in public service and the greater good.”


This rhetoric does not address how the council can make savings in other areas while prioritising key local services. They could, for example, look at cutting executive pay and leading from the top. Our Town Hall Rich List, released earlier this year, revealed that five council officers, including the Chief Executive, received total remuneration in excess of £100,000 in 2009-10. In addition, the council employs three political advisers and three European Officers. Removing unnecessary jobs like this could save the council around £225,000 per year. They could even shift mileage rate claims down to HMRC recommended levels from the 65p a mile they are at now. These bills currently cost the council over £800,000.



In addition to hitting local taxpayers with a 3.5 per cent rise in council tax, another proposed measure is to increase parking charges. Leaked papers seen by the Brighton Argus disclosed the council’s revised tariff, which will see increases of more than 100 per cent. It could cost £15 at weekends for four hours at one city centre car park – a huge increase on the current £9.50. The measures have united the local Conservative and Labour groups, both describing the idea as an unwelcome blow to business at a time when they are already struggling. As Cllr Kitcat notes, inflation is running at 5.2 per cent, so yes, times are tough, but they are also incredibly tough for taxpayers. With VAT at 20 per cent, as well as staggering fuel and energy costs, the last thing they need is an increase in council tax, and more parking charges on top.

In the BBC piece, Tony Travers of the London School of Economics suggests that the country’s first Green controlled council wants to “stand out from the crowd to show they are different”. Whether this is the case or not, they have the same responsibility as other local authorities across the country. Councils need to be making savings while at the same time giving taxpayers a break. It is safe to say this deal is anything but a good deal for taxpayers.

Click here to watch the piece on the BBC Politics Show South East (from 38m 30s, available until Sunday 13th November). On this Sunday’s programme, there will be a feature on plans to change the amount councils get from business rates.

 

** UPDATE** Councillor Jason Kitcat has been named the TaxPayers' Alliance's Pinhead of the Month for boasting this month about his administration’s decision to refuse the Government funding which would allow for a freeze in council tax next year and to instead impose a 3.5% increase in council tax for Brighton and Hove residents. **A BBC Politics Show South East report last weekend explained how Brighton & Hove City Council plan to increase council tax by 3.5 per cent. They are one of the only councils to publicly admit to rejecting money from the Government to freeze tax instead.

As Helen Drew explains, the council could have accepted £3 million from central government. However, this was turned down in favour of raising council tax to gain £4 million.  The council said that the extra £1 million was necessary in order to maintain local services. This misses the point somewhat. As many innovative councils have shown, it is possible to make savings which don’t affect local services - take Newham for example.

Admittedly it is a little disappointing that councils need an incentive to freeze council tax in the first place, but the measure is a welcome one for struggling families. However, Cllr Jason Kitcat, Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services at Brighton & Hove City Council, wrote:

“Brighton & Hove is not the kind of place where we want to give up on the elderly, marginalised or vulnerable – those most in need of help. We believe in civilisation, in public service and the greater good.”


This rhetoric does not address how the council can make savings in other areas while prioritising key local services. They could, for example, look at cutting executive pay and leading from the top. Our Town Hall Rich List, released earlier this year, revealed that five council officers, including the Chief Executive, received total remuneration in excess of £100,000 in 2009-10. In addition, the council employs three political advisers and three European Officers. Removing unnecessary jobs like this could save the council around £225,000 per year. They could even shift mileage rate claims down to HMRC recommended levels from the 65p a mile they are at now. These bills currently cost the council over £800,000.



In addition to hitting local taxpayers with a 3.5 per cent rise in council tax, another proposed measure is to increase parking charges. Leaked papers seen by the Brighton Argus disclosed the council’s revised tariff, which will see increases of more than 100 per cent. It could cost £15 at weekends for four hours at one city centre car park – a huge increase on the current £9.50. The measures have united the local Conservative and Labour groups, both describing the idea as an unwelcome blow to business at a time when they are already struggling. As Cllr Kitcat notes, inflation is running at 5.2 per cent, so yes, times are tough, but they are also incredibly tough for taxpayers. With VAT at 20 per cent, as well as staggering fuel and energy costs, the last thing they need is an increase in council tax, and more parking charges on top.

In the BBC piece, Tony Travers of the London School of Economics suggests that the country’s first Green controlled council wants to “stand out from the crowd to show they are different”. Whether this is the case or not, they have the same responsibility as other local authorities across the country. Councils need to be making savings while at the same time giving taxpayers a break. It is safe to say this deal is anything but a good deal for taxpayers.

Click here to watch the piece on the BBC Politics Show South East (from 38m 30s, available until Sunday 13th November). On this Sunday’s programme, there will be a feature on plans to change the amount councils get from business rates.

 

** UPDATE** Councillor Jason Kitcat has been named the TaxPayers' Alliance's Pinhead of the Month for boasting this month about his administration’s decision to refuse the Government funding which would allow for a freeze in council tax next year and to instead impose a 3.5% increase in council tax for Brighton and Hove residents. **

Latest Blogs: