TPA supporter Peter Heaton writes today about how his Parish Council is increasing the parish precept tax as a means of increasing its political ‘empire’, seeking to do more at a greater cost to the taxpayer. Peter, however, points out that his Parish Council are charging him to so they can do things the district council already does. Clearly local government wants taxpayers to pay twice for a service:
Just when it seems hikes in council tax are at last beginning to come under some control, we have cases around the country of parish councils imposing enormous increases. One in Northamptonshire tried to get away with more than 80%.
My local one, in Milton Keynes is Shenley Brook End Parish Council. It wants to increase its share of council tax by more than 10 times inflation (to £43.50 per Band D household – an increase of £9.50 per household per annum).
Now an extra £9.50 a year may not sound like a lot of money. But we don’t have any choice about paying it, and didn’t have any voice in how that figure was arrived at – or indeed whether we think we need a parish council at all, or if we think we do, what we would like it to do and at what cost.
To quote their newsletter, “This is an expanding parish, and we must take account of a rising population that will make greater demands on our resources”. But hang on; if more people are moving in, more people pay council tax.
They also say, “Compared with other parishes in the borough, we are still far below the biggest spending parishes, and well below the average.” So what. That’s a justification for a massive increase in spending?
If some of them decide to spend more, the average will go up – then they’ll all be able to justify spending more if they are below average. It’s easy when it’s not your money.
And they imply that they are so good, they have been able to keep the increase down by taking £39,200 from their reserves. That’ll be £39,200 of our money then.
Hardly anyone votes for these empire builders. They might say we’re doing this, that and the other, but they need to get real. What planet are these people on?
They are operating on the old local government adage of needing to spend more and more all the time, thinking up things to do which often are being done adequately already.
So they have decided to pay for extra community support officers (even though we already pay for those through our police element of the council tax), extra youth workers (we pay for them already through council tax) and a parish warden to patrol for litter and graffiti (we already pay for that through council tax too).
Now they’ve got themselves offices, staff and a van. What next? Some assistant chief executives? Voting to put their expenses up? Or a health and safety officer to oil the wheels of the £400,000 gravy train they are running at our expense.
If you want to make your voice heard on the local tax situation in your area, email a short 300-400 article to me and we’ll look to publish it on the blog.
It is hard to imagine how Populus could have made their poll, given prominent coverage by the Times, on the budget tax changes less reliable. They make just about every mistake in the book.
Populus found support for tax increases on "large, so-called gas-guzzling" cars; the poll accepts the accuracy of the Chancellor’s spin as a given.
The very term "gas-guzzling" is clearly leading as it carries undertones of greed and wastefulness. Even if the question had been framed in a more neutral manner, though, that isn’t what we had in the Budget. The Telegraph reports the findings of our research on this issue:
"Analysis shows that over the next two years, millions of drivers will face soaring bills as road tax on some popular family models doubles.
However, duty on Rolls Royces and Porsches will rise by less than the typical family saloon – undermining claims that the taxes are meant for gas guzzlers."
Put that in your poll and see what result you get…
Polling before the measures in the Budget were really understood
All the fieldwork for this poll was done on Wednesday evening, not long after the Chancellor’s speech and before the morning papers. At that stage the main news source will have been the BBC, which largely accepted the Chancellor’s presentation of his VED changes. Since then the true picture has been emerging. With the most popular broadsheet and tabloid newspapers slamming the changes and exposing how misleading their initial presentation in the Budget was do we seriously think that public opinion won’t have changed?
Small sample size
The last TaxPayers’ Alliance annual conference poll (PPT) by YouGov surveyed 2,162 people. By contrast, this new Populus poll only asked 596 people. That means its results are far less reliable. This is true for all of the results that the Times cites so confidently but particularly when they focus on particular social classes. The number of, for example, "professionals and managers" in the survey will be very low.
No past vote weighting
Mike Smithson of the respected PoliticalBetting.Com website notes that:
"The survey did not include a voting intention question and was almost certainly not past vote weighted. This is likely to have produced a smallish but significant nevertheless pro-Labour sample."
This will probably mean people look less favourably on the Budget changes than this poll suggests.
Anyone picking up the Daily Express today will find on the front page the embodiment of the political class smugly jabbing his finger at the British public.
In David Cameron’s budget response yesterday, Mr Cameron listed the areas where Labour had failed, concluding that Britain now lives under record levels of taxation, to which Ed Balls – Children’s Minister – shouted “so what?”. You can see the exchange and David Cameron’s astonished reply here on the Guido Fawkes’ blog.
If Eddie doesn’t know what’s bad about Labour’s levels of crippling taxation, let’s list him a few. The government have effectively doubled income tax on low earners by making the 10% band a 20% levy. Pensioners, part time workers and those who should be the first to receive tax relief will be hit hardest. The government tried to fob them off with more benefits and a measly £50 increase in the basic winter fuel allowance for pensioners. But they’re giving £50 whilst taking a hell of a lot more.
While the government can take an easy line on criminals, even this week informing judges that drug addicted burglars shouldn’t be sent to prison, there’s always room in the nick for the odd Council Tax protester, as Mr Peers and Mr Fitzmaurice have found out.
Then there was the MP expenses fiddle, your Council Tax going to fund lavish salaries for Council Cabinet members as well as bureaucratic high earners and Council non-jobbers. Never mind that councils use your money for their own publicity and MPs were caught propagandizing on your buck, the politicians will continue to tax you, to waste your money until you do something about it!
Email Ed Balls through his website and let him know you’re overtaxed. You can also get recruiting for the TaxPayers’ Alliance by sending this link around to your friends, neighbours and family urging them to sign up and get involved.
You’ll see on our website the waste we find, the 7 of us working full time and our activist volunteers scanning local papers. But what we find is just the tip of the iceberg. We need your help. Please take some time from your busy day to recommend free membership of the TPA, copy this link from our registration page and forward it to your email contacts. How many more years can you afford these record levels of taxation? It’s time to do something about it!
I’ve just returned from Horley, Surrey, where I was leafleting and recruiting with our new East Surrey TPA organiser Clive Greig (pictured). Even though it rained non-stop (not as bad as yesterday, mind) we pressed on handing out leaflets and telling people about the TPA’s mission to lower taxes and inform the public that the government isn’t always right, that it shouldn’t run everything and that, in some instances, government can be the problem rather than the solution.
We were joined by TPA supporter Bill Cobbett who took some leaflets back to East Grinstead to continue the recruitment drive there.
This shows a great advancement for the TPA in Surrey. We already have a successful and thriving branch in South West Surrey under the experienced stewardship of Peter Webb, whose regular campaign diaries you can read on our blog. Now under Clive’s management the East Surrey TPA can flourish, ensuring that councils in the East are held to account so Surrey’s taxpayers can get lower taxes and value for money services.
If you want to have a leaflet day in your area to help build a strong TPA presence in your area, drop me an email and we can arrange something. Even better, if you’re in East Surrey and want to get involved, email Clive and get campaigning. Tomorrow you’ll all find out just how hard we have to fight for lower taxes and smaller government. This is your money, it’s your campaign – so do your bit for the cause, join up and spread the word!
Essex County Council appears to be leading the way in committing £1.5million to saving 15 Post Offices across the county earmarked for closure. At what cost, though, will this be to the taxpayer who already faces increased postage costs and soaring council tax?
This trial should be watched closely, however. If Essex CC can prove to taxpayers that they are putting the £1.5million in as an investment, reducing costs to the taxpayer (in the form of an efficient service and lower council tax bills) then this meets our target of seeing councils putting your money to frontline services. If, however, Essex CC does nothing to reform the clunky, bureaucratic nature of the Post Office and uses taxpayers’ money as a dodgy subsidy, then the £1.5million will not remain as a fixed cost on their balance sheet for long, and Essex taxpayers will see their bills increase as a result.
Given that Essex CC’s publicity spending has gone up, its middle management has swelled and their middle-management-gold-plated-pensions cost each household £44, it doesn’t provide the best record for taking on the running of Post Offices and giving taxpayers value for money.
As my colleague posted yesterday, Kent County Council Chief Executive Peter Gilroy, who last year was England’s highest paid local government employee, has been fighting an increasingly desperate rearguard action to try to keep his salary secret from the taxpayers who foot the bill.
His fairly weak excuse was that when we revealed his salary last year he had received "abuse" from taxpayers who felt they weren’t getting value for money. Our point has always been that the way to rectify that problem is to do a better job and/or claim less pay, not refuse to tell taxpayers how their money is spent.
So we were delighted to read in today’s Kent Messenger, which has just landed on our internet doormat, that
THE salaries of Kent County Council’s top officers are to be disclosed after all following following a change of heart by the authority’s chief executive.
Apparently, Mr Gilroy has not just had a change of heart, he’s had
discussions with the council’s legal bosses.
We suspect it’s more to do with the discussions we’ve been having with the Kent Messenger, the Daily Express and ITV Meridian News, and the discussions TPA activists have had with Mr Gilroy’s email inbox!
This is a great victory for Kent’s taxpayers, who get to find out how their money is spent despite the obscuring attempts of some bureaucrats who would rather keep the public in the dark. It’s also another testament to the strength of the TaxPayers’ Alliance as a combination of media and grassroots campaigning – following on from the encouraging news that Edinburgh council are reviewing publicity spending as a result of our Council Spending Uncovered campaign. We’ve got to make it more painful to be secretive than it is to be open. If Mr Gilroy thought he was saving himself trouble by trying to keep the information quiet, we have proved him very wrong. Hopefully next time he’ll realise that openness is far preferable to secrecy.
First Edinburgh, now Kent – it may be a long road, but we really can get the public sector into shape; one council at a time if needs be.
It’s telling that other KCC officials realised what the reality of the situation was before their Chief Exec did, and have been scurrying to distance themselves from his obstinacy by leaking undermining information to the press. The Kent Messenger has reported that "his own advisers warned he risked looking incredibly silly" and that "his intervention came despite being advised by his own officials that under the Freedom of Information Act, the council ought to publish the details" (here and here) – whispers that can only have come from his own office.
This is increasingly a generational issue, illustrated by this split between Mr Gilroy and his advisors. Younger politicians and civil servants are more aware that people are simply sick of secrecy, behind-closed-doors and need-to-know in politics and the public sector. Those who think they can simply decree that the public shall not be allowed to know where their money goes, or think they should be above scrutiny are increasingly rare dinosaurs who are going to find it more and more difficult to ignore that times are changing.
PS Oddly enough, all that money that Kent County Council spend on publicity seems not to be making much of an impact. I’ve just done a debate on BBC Radio Kent against Cllr Alex King, the Deputy Leader, who was arguing that KCC aren’t going to release the information, even when I confronted him with the Kent Messenger article referenced above. Either he needs to get a briefing before he goes on air of the Council’s latest position, or they’ve lied to the Kent Messenger about their U-turn. Neither is a sign of a great PR department, or that the £6,586,000 publicity budget is being well-spent…
Either way, you might want to drop him a line to tell him how wrong he is to still be arguing for this information to be kept secret. Here are his contact details:
Cllr Alex King,
Slip Mill Road,
Kent TN18 4JT
With the budget round the corner the government is leaking the more unpopular aspects so as to mitigate the damage done on the day. First they leave Northern Rock off the balance sheet, then higher fuel taxes are mooted and now today in the Metro there’s speculation that prescription charges will increase…but only for the English.
Compare this increase with a charge reduction in Scotland to £5, with prescriptions to become free in 2011. In Wales prescriptions are already free.
As a free marketeer, I don’t mind paying for a good or service. Nothing is free, after all. When the government say the NHS is ‘free at the point of delivery’, what they really mean is you don’t hand any cash over to the lady at the surgery reception desk. It’s impressive double-speak, especially when you consider the Treasury has been throwing money at the NHS for the past ten years. Yet prescriptions still increase, hitting pensioners and those on fixed incomes hardest.
What I mind is paying for the service twice, once in indirect, compulsory taxation out of my, humble, pay packet and another when I go to pick up a prescription. What on earth do I pay National Insurance for if it’s not going to pay for my personal health insurance (read: NHS)? Where’s the money going, Gordon?
The next thing that irks me is the pure hypocrisy from the government in their stance on the spending disparities between England and the rest of the UK. On Wednesday the Telegraph reported a government review of the Barnett formula – a temporary measure from the 1970s that amounts to more money being spent per person in Scotland than in England – yet the change prescription charges will expose further disparities between spending arrangements in the Union.
Please contact your MP and ask them why the English taxpayer should continue to receive the brunt of this government’s nincompoop-designed spending plans.
Let me ask you something. Do you think that someone whose salary you pay should be accountable to you? From your hard earned taxes, the government employs civil servants, bureaucrats and, what really gripes us, town hall fats. They live off your money, so they should be accountable – all of them, elected or not. So you see our logic in asking those we pay what they earn to see if we get value for money in return.
The politicians make the policy and, in theory at least, the bureaucrats implement it. As taxpayers we judge their results according to whether we get value for money. But Peter Gilroy, the Chief Executive of Kent County Council (pictured) and the highest paid Council Chief Executive in the country, thinks you shouldn’t know who in local government are the biggest earners and some of the most influential and powerful people in your Town Hall.
Thank you Mr Gilroy, you’ve just got yourself in a whole lot of trouble. You can’t just ignore the Freedom of Information Act because people were ‘abusive’ to you. Perhaps if you did a better job they wouldn’t be.
The Freedom of Information Act is there so we, the taxpayer, can know where our money is being spent. That includes our taxes spent on your bloated salary. If you don’t like it, give Kent’s taxpayers value for money services at a lower cost to the taxpayer. For example, Kent council lands in the top ten in all three of our reports into council spending, as well as having the highest paid Chief Executive in the country and it still spends well over £6.5million on its own self-congratulatory publicity.
Clearly there’s room for improvement, which is why we will continue to hold you to account. And when I say ‘we’, I mean our 18,000 supporters and activists. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.
Please contact Kent County Council’s Chief Executive, Peter Gilroy, on the following contacts:
Kent ME14 1XQ
Telephone: 08458 247247
Email: [email protected]
1. Why he thinks the taxpayer shouldn’t know what he earns?
2. How he justifies a, probably underestimate, salary of £230,000 when Council Tax has doubled in ten years and taxpayers see services decline?
3. Whether he would like it, if he were on a fixed income or pension, paying for someone’s unaccountable salary if they were failing in their duties as a public servant?
You can also send this blog round to other taxpayers angry at high levels of Council Tax and officers’ desperate bid to dodge the Freedom of Information Act. Remember the FOIA is your only way to find out where your money is going. So please take only 5 minutes out of your day to send an email or make a call to defend your right to know where your money is being spent!
There was a very telling poll of political attitudes out over the weekend, commissioned from Yougov by the Daily Telegraph – the full results can be found here. While the newspaper reports headlined on the growing pressure on Michael Martin, there were some very interesting figures on the question of politicians abusing expenses and allowances.
They make pretty sobering reading from an MP’s perspective. The vast majority of the public think that a large proportion of MPs are dishonestly taking advantage of taxpayers’ money. That isn’t to say that they are – as it happens, I think the majority of MPs are probably honest (in terms of expenses, anyway) – but that the public think they are.
It is at this point that mant politicians throw up their hands in horror and say that they are more sinned against than sinning, and that it is unfair for them all to be stained by the activities of a minority.
Few people will shed a tear for their predicament, though. If the public’s assumption is unfair, MPs only have themselves to blame for not disclosing their expenses in detail.
Who can blame the public for thinking the worst when politicians resist something so uncontroversial as telling people where their money is being spent?
If MPs don’t agree with the moral argument for transparency, perhaps this poll will make them do the right thing for more selfish reasons. An act of enlightened self-interest, if you will.
It is in MPs’ best interests for this public cynicism to be dispelled; it certainly can’t be very nice to have everyone assume you’re a con artist, and it is probably electorally unhealthy, too. Until there is full disclosure and transparency, this cloud of suspicion will continue to hang over the majority of MPs – probably unfairly, but entirely understandably. If the suspicions are so unfair, as MPs claim, then they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from opening up their books for the world to see.
TPA Activist Brian Sturman (see left) is a prolific letter writer for the low tax cause and consistently writes letters holding our wasteful politicians to account. His letters routinely find their way into the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News and have reached as far away as the Northumberland Gazette. So regular are his letters that we’ll be adding a new feature to the TPA Grassroots Campaign blog: Brian’s Letters. Here are his two latest offerings, his first attacking the scandalous way tax protester Richard Fitzmaurice was treated:
For withholding £1,568 council tax, a pensioner gets a month in prison, costing taxpayers many thousands. We also learn that early release prisoners are given £168 plus £70 rent per week in order to make vacant cells in over crowded prisons. Their unpaid council tax will be written off.
Where is the cost effectiveness in locking up a pensioner because he is reacting to the forcible extraction of a third of his annual state pension? How can a month deterrent stop repeated imprisonments, particularly those genuinely already having to choose between heating house costs and eating?
It is clear that this tax is reducing elderly people into greater poverty, and even creating criminals of vulnerable citizens desperately hoping for a sensible solution from the out of touch “fat cat” politicians living in their luxurious Westminster village.
Today Brian has highlighted the sharp contrast between life at the top in the public sector and life as a pensioner having to struggle to make ends meet:
Local newspapers report top Norfolk and Suffolk council bosses increased salaries up to £220,000. 220 pensioners must each pay £1,000 (about quarter of their inadequate state pension), to provide one top official salary. There are many more top officials like this around the country.
Do these fat cat bosses have any shame for causing further reduction in the already low standard of living for so many poor pensioners? I think not, the evidence is they even use their powers to prosecute and send pensioners to prison in handcuffs (Norfolk magistrates, 19 Feb, Richard Fitzmaurice), just for reacting to this exhibition of taxes wasted on excessive salaries while Social Care Services to pensioners are cut.
Brian’s not the only activist who writes letters spelling out exactly how frustrated taxpayers are at the waste of money going on in government. How long will it take you to write a letter the length of Brian’s? With your letter highlighting waste, high taxation and over-spending, you can shift the debate and encourage more people to take up the gauntlet and fight for lower taxes. It’s your money, fight to stop the taxman taking more of it!
Independent East Herts Councillors Nigel and Deborah Clark have been hard at work fighting for taxpayers. Despite having their alternative budget rejected – a budget that would have lowered councillor allowances and cut the council tax rise in the borough – they are now fighting to save the local Citizens Advice Bureau from closure.
Their plan would see councillor allowances – meant to pay for postage and other expenses – reduced to save the East Herts CAB from closure. Councillor Deborah Clark argued that by taking only £210,000 a year from the massive £482,500 reserved for councillor allowances will save the CAB as well as reducing Council Tax. Set in context, East Herts council pays its councillors far more than neighbouring councils and could easily afford cuts to prioritise essential services. Therefore the savings can be made.
As you’ll see from the newspaper clipping above, the council fudged the issue, stating that councillor salaries are set by an ‘Independent’ Remuneration Panel that only makes recommendations, recommendations the council votes on, however, and can reject. Therefore they’re trying to pass the buck, like they do when they blame central government for high council tax.
This is where you can come in to pressure the council. Tell East Herts council to support Nigel and Deborah Clark in their campaign to seek value for money for taxpayers. Please write to the Hertfordshire Mercury and show your support for lower taxes and those councillors who actually vote to put taxpayers first! If we can get a thriving public debate going, we can show that the people want tax cuts and their money spent on frontline services and not more snouts in the trough.