Bath councillors are arguing for taxpayers’ money to be spent on converting a public toilet into a wine bar. It is the latest twist in the Bath and North East Somerset’s (B&NES) bungled attempt to save £120,000 by closing down 14 public toilets across the region.
Situated in the village of Larkhall, the public toilet was all set to be closed down, when a series of protests—including a woman spending several nights in one loo—plus a 2,800-signature petition, forced a u-turn on the council who have agreed now not to close the toilets unless other provision can be made for the vulnerable people who need to use the loos. The whole procedure was so clearly a public relations act to show that the council was getting tough on expenditure, while actually doing little to trim its back-room budget. The removal of one senior management post would more than have covered the £120,000 they wished to save by closing down the toilets.
But now in a worrying trend B&NES is setting itself up as a taxpayer funded restaurateur and bar-owner—it recently ejected one successful restaurant from a city centre premises to set up its own council run bistro. Now it is planning to put taxpayers’ money towards converting Larkhall Square convenience into a wine bar.
‘The idea is to turn water into wine,’ says one B&NES councillor. ‘I think the council will put some money towards it, it’s a really viable proposal.’ He adds the wine bar loo has been ‘agreed in principle.’ Our message is simple, if it is a viable proposal then why do taxpayers need to subsidise it.
So we may soon be able to toast the health of the council in a toilet—sounds about right…
In our report ‘201 Ways to Save Money in Local Government’ published last month, number 188 was reduce the number of councillors. I don’t know whether Keighley’s deputy mayor, Judith Brooksbank has seen our report, however she is proposing just that after the suggestion received strong support at a local consultation meeting.
Currently, Bradford Council has a total of 90 councillors spilt between thirty wards – three per ward. Cllr Brooksbank has proposed cutting the number of councillors by a third, leaving two per ward, meaning there wouldn’t have to be any redrawing of the boundaries which can be a lengthy and costly process. According to her, it could save £390,000 a year. Her proposal has not gone down well though with the leader of Bradford Council, Cllr Dave Green. He said:
One issue is whether the actual savings would overcome the representational issue it would cause. I know that different wards have different types of workload. The councillors I know from all parties are all extremely busy doing their ward work. It’s not a simple argument to say that you cut the number of councillors by a third and automatically save a third of the amount of money.
It may not be quite as simple as that, as some councillors may clock up some extra miles, however reducing the number of councillors by a third would undoubtedly reduce costs by a significant amount. And surely sixty councillors is enough to represent local taxpayers? Do Bradford residents really need ninety councillors? That’s for local residents to decide, although I can’t imagine the council suddenly becoming less democratic as a result of a reduction. In fact, standards could improve as there will be more competition for fewer places.
It will be interesting to see if existing councillors agree to put this proposal out for consultation next year. Or will it be a case of turkeys not voting for Christmas?
Swansea Council, along with some other councils in Wales, has proposed yet further cut backs to local bin collections. As I mentioned last week, the council proposes to limit the amount of refuse one household can have collected to only three black bags once a fortnight .
Households should be helped to recycle more but that does not justify the move. It is vital that we protect essential front-line services that taxpayers pay a fortune for through their Council Tax bill.
That’s why we’re holding an Action Day this Friday, 13 December, and will ask local people to sign our petition. You will find us on Oxford Street, Swansea, from 9.00 am until lunchtime. Please come and show your support against this outrageous policy.
Buckinghamshire County Council’s cabinet has just recommended just under two per cent increase in Council Tax next year.
I reported a couple of months ago that the council was undertaking a consultation giving residents the option of a two per cent increase, a four per cent increase, or a five per cent increase, but not a freeze. Just under half of those who responded favoured four or five per cent as the council said any additional cash raised above two per cent would be ring fenced and spend on the county’s roads. Without a clear mandate, cabinet members did not feel they could proceed with a referendum, which they say would have cost £300,000.
The leader of the council, Cllr Martin Tett, said the consultation did not allow residents the option of a freeze because of the statutory obligations the council has, such as offering every child a school place and it’s duty to look after vulnerable children and adults. I find this rather odd as every county council and unitary authority has the same obligations and yet many are still freezing Council Tax. He also commented that he was disappointed more residents had not approved of increases of four or five per cent. But with people struggling with rising prices and stagnant wages, the fact that they cannot afford a Council Tax increase should not come as a suprise .
By not giving them the option of a freeze, Cllr Tett and his colleagues have just held a loaded consultation. Although residents were allowed to leave comments, because a freeze was not presented to them, we do not know how many of them would have gone for that option. For consultations to be credible, all options have to be on the table. It was very disappointing this was not done in Buckinghamshire.
We held a ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty’ street stall in Beverley in September and we got a great response from local people. We were in Beverley again yesterday promoting the campaign and once again the response was positive.
Half of buyers in the East Riding are already paying an average £1,600 in Stamp Duty, and this is set to rise to two-thirds by 2017 paying an average of £2,200. This ever increasing burden is making it difficult for local people to get on the property ladder and also difficult for those with growing families who are looking to buy a larger home.
If you haven’t done so already, please write to your MP. It only takes a minute and makes a real difference.
Cardiff and Anglesey councils are proposing monthly collections of non-recyclable rubbish. Carmarthenshire and Monmouthshire currently restrict the amount of waste collected from residents and now Swansea Council says it is going to limit the number of black bags residents are allowed to put out for collection.
Although the council has formally not made up its mind on the issue, and the cabinet are discussing it this week, the move appears to be a foregone conclusion. The council is already outlining the dates of publicity campaigns and the implementation dates.
Just like those other councils in Wales who are reducing their rubbish collection services, Swansea will not be reducing the amount of Council Tax local people have to pay. The council claims it is all to do with statutory recycling targets, however figures obtained by Media Wales highlight that recycling rates in Swansea currently stand at 52 per cent, which currently meets Welsh Government targets.
The council has said there will be exceptions for large families, houses of multiple occupation, and in areas where there are physical restrictions, however for everyone else woe betide you if you generate more than three bin bags worth of rubbish every fortnight. Those who fail to comply with the new arrangements when they are introduced will face formal enforcement action.
If councils want residents to recycle more, they should constructively engage with them and make it as easy as possible. When will politicians ever learn that draconian measures like this only serve to alienate the public? Council taxpayers are customers. They don’t deserve threats.
Salisbury supporters gathered on a chilly December day near Poultry Cross—a medieval 15th century market cross—in Butcher Row in central Salisbury to call on the government to Stamp Out Stamp Duty. In Wiltshire, three in every ten people buying a flat or house pay the 3% rate or more. By 2017, that will rise to half!
‘Stamp Duty is a punitive tax that is long overdue an intelligent re-think,’ says Salisbury supporter Paul Cunningham. ‘It unfairly penalises first time buyers and the elderly, and acts as a drag on housing transactions and the mobility and economic benefit that are linked to them. Having increased 15-fold since 1992, it is essentially an outdated piece of pocket-picking that needs urgent overhaul.’
Join our campaign and send a letter to your local MP calling for a cut in Stamp Duty.
Our ‘Stamp Out Stamp Duty‘ campaign has been out on the road again this week. I joined local supporters in Sutton Coldfield on Wednesday for a street stall and yesterday I also joined supporters in the Chancellor’s own constituency, in Wilmslow. And ahead of the Autumn Statement next Thursday there’s still more to come.
Tomorrow we are in Camberley, meeting near the entrance to The Mall, High Street, Camberley, at 12.oo noon. Next Monday, 2 December, we are in Salisbury. Supporters are meeting at the Poultry Cross, Butcher Row, at 12.00 noon. The following day, Tuesday 3 December, we are in Beverley. Again we are meeting at 12.oo noon and our stall will be situated in Saturday Market, near the junction with Sow Hill Road & Ladygate. If you are in any of those places on those dates, please come and say hello, and if you can spare a few minutes to help us, please let me know.
Finally, if you haven’t already written to your MP, please go to StampOutStampDuty.Org and follow the instructions. It only takes a minute and makes a real difference.
On Monday TaxPayers’ Alliance supporters brought our Stop the Energy Swindle campaign to Wrexham. I would not only like to thank our supporters for turning out, but also the local residents for taking their time to sign our petition. The event was part of our campaign to inform local residents and business owners of a big reason why their energy bills have sky-rocketed over the past number of years – green taxes.
The event in Wrexham demonstrated the harsh and very real impact of green taxes upon individuals and their communities. Shop keepers expressed concerns at the burden of energy bills and their worries that continuous increases could actually result in them having to cease trading. Whilst speaking with shoppers many seemed worried about the levels of fuel poverty and questioned how they might cope this year, especially as snow has already stated falling in some parts. Worried that green taxes will cause increase the average family bill to rise by over £200 some pensioners even suggested sacrificing their winter fuel allowance just to have an overall reduction in taxation. Reports of people dying because of the impact of cold weather conditions were vivid in many peoples’ minds.
It’s time Government changed its disastrous energy policy. Subsidies for uneconomic forms of renewable energy while guaranteeing big profits for energy firms is having disastrous consequences on family bills. Instead the government really needs to provide a lifeline to the people of towns like Wrexham by leaving more cash in their pockets, ensuring that people can afford to actually heat their homes in the build-up to the festive period.
On a cold and crisp day at the heart of the University of Bristol, students gathered to support our Cut Cider Tax campaign. They collected signatures for our petition calling on a cut in the Cider Duty Escalator, which automatically adds duty of 2 per cent above inflation to a pint of cider each year.
‘Britain has a proud history in beer and cider production and for centuries has been an integral part of our heritage,’ says Bristol student Charlie Brandon. ‘While we should take pride in the fact that many of the major commercial brands are produced in this country we should also strive to protect our local producers who provide us with a greater variety of choice of high quality cider. A tax cut will allow these producers to provide this quality and variety at competitive prices, and therefore ensure their survival.’
After the signature collecting, students celebrated a successful action day with a few pints of cider at the White Bear, a favourite pub with students. Local cider enthusiasts should also visit the nearby Bristol Cider Shop on Christmas Steps, which sells a number of local and speciality ciders, including Burrow Hill Somerset Cider and Gwatkin Old Rats Tail, not for the faint-hearted apparently! I stuck to regional favourite Thatchers…
Please sign our online petition here
Thanet District Council has dug itself into a financial hole. It allowed Transeuropa Ferries to operate for three years from the council owned port of Ramsgate without paying berthing fees – they disguised it as a “loan against invoice”. Transeuropa then went bankrupt (in April), leaving their (£3.4 m) bills unpaid (and uninsured against) and the council with a port with no ferry operator.
In September the council paid consultants to market Ramsgate port, but no operators came forward. That is still the case. The council are considering options for alternative uses for the port, but really want a new ferry operator. One alternative use is as a calling port for cruises – maybe not very practical taking into account the small size of the port and the narrow channels that have to constantly dredged just to allow ferries, not to mention the Dover cruise terminals just down the coast. A meeting on the subject descended into chaos when one councillor insisted on filming the meeting (which the TPA campaigns to allow), for which he was eventually ejected. The meeting then rejected a suggestion to put the port on the market.
That is not the end of Thanet’s financial worries. They now owe Kent County Council another £2.7 m for their share of a new link road built to serve a business park, jointly owned by Thanet District Council and East Kent Opportunities Limited Liabilities Partnership (EKO). The business park has so far failed to attract enough firms to occupy space on the 92 acre plot. Thanet’s £2.7m contribution was due this month, but has been deferred until March next year – with interest of about £50,000. Plans by EKO to boost the site by adding shops, community facilities, a car showroom and 550 houses were rejected by Thanet District Council last month. The only way they can meet their obligations will mean dipping into their cash reserves.
A report by four independent members of the authority’s own Standards Committee says that there is a “siege mentality” and “public mistrust”, and raises concern at the amount of bad behaviour and personal attacks by councillors. A member of the public has also been thrown out of a meeting for filming. Clearly Thanet Council badly needs to put its house in order – and fast. There is a danger central government could step in to prevent further catastrophes. And ultimately the bill for these financial problems will only end up in one place, the doormat of local residents.
Wrexham, in North Wales, has seen over the years an influx of hi-tech business and the opening of a new university. It has the second largest industrial Estate in the UK which accommodates around 300 businesses, employing 7000 staff, and creates a livelihood for many who live in Wrexham and North East Wales.
It’s not just families that are being hurt by green taxes – the businesses that provide much needed employment are being affected too, and if we want greater prosperity and more secure jobs for the people of North Wales, these green taxes have to go.
On Monday 25 November, I will be joining other TPA supporters in Wrexham who are holding a ‘Stop the Energy Swindle’ street stall. We are meeting on Hope Street, Wrexham, LL11 1BB at 11.00 am.
If you are in Wrexham on Monday, please come and say hello, and if you haven’t done so already, please write to your MP using the website EnergySwindle.Org.
For the people of Wrexham and the surrounding areas of Llangollen, Ruthin, Mold and Rossett, where I once lived, now is the time to support the local campaign and oppose this Energy Swindle.