Avon’s hot air
Feb 2012 29

Wiltshire Council – the council that got rid of its chief executive last year – now announces that it is freezing its council tax and is implementing savings of £32m on its budget of £330m by ‘closing council offices, cutting posts and working more efficiently.’

‘Interestingly enough in our financial plan we had already got a 0% increase in council tax so to us it was an added bonus that the government gave us a grant,’ says Council leader Jane Scott. ‘Sadly there are job losses, there are always going to be job losses because every council works mostly on staff but we are making a lot of efficiencies by taking waste and bureaucracy out of the system.’ Good for her.

Less praiseworthy is the decision by Avon Fire Authority to increase their council tax precept this year by nearly 4%, taking their slice of a Band D homeowner’s tax bill to £62.77, despite calls from the government to freeze it. This is the same Avon Fire Authority that was criticised for spending £11,000 one year buying a hot air balloon to promote fire prevention.

‘It’s a waste of rate payers’ money when you see that the fire service precept on the council tax has gone up four per cent,’ said one local councillor. ‘They didn’t need to buy the balloon. It’s just something they can use to take people up for a ride in. The things they do make me mad—no other fire service in the country has a balloon.’

It was also the same Avon Fire Authority that was criticised for spending local taxpayers’ money on a two-day conference entitled ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality in the fire service – an absolute taboo?’

In response to a local councillor questioning what this had to do with the fire service, the Chair of the Avon Fire Authority struck back by saying ‘it publicly demonstrates [the councillor’s] ignorance of the legislation he has a responsibility to comply with as an employer and must raise questions as to his suitability to hold office.’ Tough words, but it does make you wonder how much they really do need that extra money from the taxpayer, especially when the justification for the rise in their precept is the protection of frontline services.

‘The decision to freeze the council tax precept again this year would have led to much more difficult decisions beyond 2013, including the possible reduction in frontline staff numbers and/or fire station closures,’ warns the current Fire Authority chairman, but presumably it would not have an impact on them buying any more hot air balloons…

Tim is Grassroots Coordinator for Bath and the South-West. He is an historian, author and veteran local campaigner.