Council Tax increases of 5 per cent in Wales
Feb 2014 19

Welsh Councils are in the process of setting their budgets and many are proposing big hikes in Council Tax of up to 5 per cent. Swansea has already approved a 5 per cent increase. This is the same Swansea council that recently limited the amount of bin bags households can leave out for already heavily curtailed fortnightly bin collections.

These hikes are bad news for local taxpayers who have seen services cut but are still paying more for the privilege. Many councils across the border have frozen Council Tax yet Welsh residents are getting hit with inflation busting hikes. Councils have to make savings but waste is still alto common across local government as huge pay-outs continue to senior staff and schemes used for aesthetics are given priority over hard-working families.

Ceredigion’s County Council is another authority proposing a 5 per cent increase.

The Taxpayers Alliance will be holding a protest outside Ceredigion’s County Council offices in Aberaeron in response to this proposed hike. We hope that you can join us. If you can help support the campaign against council tax increases in Wales, get in touch.

What: Ceredigion Council Tax action day

Where: Ceredigion County Council, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA46 0PA

When: Thursday 20th February at 9.00am

Oxford students join Cut Cider Tax campaign
Feb 2014 18

On a rainy day at Balliol College, one of Oxford University’s oldest and most prestigious colleges, students gathered in its subterranean bar to support our Cut Cider Tax campaign. They collected dozens of signatures for our petition calling on a cut in the Cider Duty Escalator, which automatically adds duty of 2% above inflation to a pint of cider. The ghost of former postgraduate student Adam Smith must have nodded approvingly.

‘With pubs closing across the country,’ says Oxford student Jack Matthews, ‘the Government needs to do all it can to help this important industry. Cutting the cider tax would be a great show of support to our hardworking publicans.’

After the signature collecting, students celebrated a successful action day with a few pints of Thatchers cider at favourite student pub the King’s Arms in the heart of Oxford. For those wanting to taste a locally brewed cider, they should try Thorn Brook cider produced by the Little Orchard Company on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, north of Banbury. Very nice!

Please sign our online petition here:

 

Essex students raise a toast to cutting cider tax!
Feb 2014 13

Students flocked to our Essex Taxpayers’ Alliance action day at the University of Essex near Colchester to support our Cut Cider Tax campaign. A petition to axe the Cider Tax escalator, which increases the duty on cider by 2% above inflation every year, attracted 120 signatures on the day.

‘Cutting cider tax will leave more money in students’ pockets,’ says Essex University student Alex Evelyn. ‘It will boost local pubs and brewers by encouraging people to drink there, rather than buying cheap supermarket brands and drinking at home.’

A quarter of the price of every pint of cider you buy is taken in tax. That means that for every four pints you buy at the bar, you also have to pay out for a fifth one for George Osborne. The extra costs have put a lot of people off of drinking in their local pub, or buying local brews.

‘My dad was a pub landlord,’ said one supporter. ‘Between alcohol duties, the smoking ban, health and safety and cheap competition from supermarkets, small businesses are just being squeezed out.’

Pressure to repeal the cider tax escalator has built since the beer duty escalator was abolished last year. We hope our campaign on cider tax will be just as successful this year. Naturally, TPA supporters rewarded themselves with a pint of cider and raised a toast to the plan to abolish this unfair tax!

Please sign our online petition here:

 

Bath shopkeepers up in arms at parking charge hikes
Feb 2014 06

Bath shopkeepers and restaurateurs are up in arms over Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) council’s dramatic rise in on-street parking charges—up by 41% in some places!

Streets in central Bath are now part of a premium zone where the parking charges have rocketed. In Laura Place, next to the historic Pulteney Bridge with its plethora of small independent shops, the charge for an hour of parking has risen steeply from £2.40 to £3.40- a 42 per cent increase.

‘Now there is greater park and ride capacity, there is less need for motorists to drive their car into the city centre for an on-street space,’ says a Bath council spokesperson. ‘We also want to encourage people to use on-street car parking for shorter terms. This helps businesses in the immediate vicinity due to a greater turnover of cars that results in a better chance for their customers to find a parking space.’

Local traders disagree. Whereas Laura Place used to be a busy parking area, it is now virtually empty of cars. The nearby shopkeepers are incensed by what they see as a move that is putting off shoppers from coming to their part of Bath—not encouraging them. In response, the Independent Shops of Bath have started a petition calling for an end to the council’s increase of parking charges.

‘The price increases are large and unjustified especially at this time of year when post-Christmas people don’t have a great deal of disposable income,’ says Rajen Doshi, owner of A H Hale Chemist on Argyle Street. ‘It’s going to prevent people from coming to shop in Bath.’

‘For our customers they want to quickly park up and grab something—this will put them off,’ says Charlie Tanner of nearby John Moore Sports. He fears this increase will have a detrimental effect on local business.

Hitting the pavements to help support the petition in other parts of Bath, I rapidly got the best part of a hundred signatures from local shopkeepers who told a similar story.

‘Our customers ask us to post their purchases to them now, rather than drive into Bath to pick them up, because the parking is so expensive,’ said the manager of a doorknob shop in Broad Street. ‘That’s a pity because those customers used to pop into other shops when they came in and they aren’t doing that now.’

B&NES is seriously misunderstanding the dynamics of shopping in their city and as result of their fixation with expensive park-and-ride schemes are putting off many other customers who would frequent Bath’s independent shops.

Councillor’s £1,000 ‘litter tour’
Feb 2014 04

Sunderland councillor Neville Padgett has splashed out over £1,000 a year on his weekly ‘litter tours’.  The Sunderland City councillor has made the 51 mile journey of every road in his Washington East ward on the lookout for litter, based in his very own car.
The backbench councillor has shamelessly claimed £7,084.80 on travel expenses, accounting for 26 per cent of the total £26,000 bill in 2012/13. The spending doesn’t stop there though. Padgett is also responsible for a massive 52 per cent of the total subsistence allowance, claiming a whopping £4,026.47 of the £7k bill.

It’s not the first time he’s left Sunderland residents picking up his massive expenses bill. Since his 2010 election, Councillor Padgett has consistently claimed the greatest travel expenses, on top of his basic £8,000 a year allowance. His claims have left some colleagues disgruntled with one stating that‘he even claimed on Valentine’s Day’.

The councillor charges the taxpayer for food and drink claims for nearly every working day and for some Saturdays too. His expenses account for a third of the total amount claimed by all 75 councillors!

Here’s hoping that someone else – other than the taxpayers – picks up Councillor Padgett’s food and drink bill this Valentine’s Day.

The TPA is hiring!
Jan 2014 31

We are seeking to recruit a National Grassroots Coordinator to oversee our growing network of activists across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A full-time post based out of the TPA’s Westminster office, the job will involve carrying out the following duties:

  • Liaising with volunteer activists to help organise action days around the country, which involve raising public awareness of issues through – amongst other things – petitions, demonstrations, leafleting and photo opportunities for the media. The events either involve locally-based activists identifying an issue to pursue, eg opposing a council tax rise or a parking charge hike, or taking national TPA campaigns, eg Stamp Out Stamp Duty or Mash Beer Tax, to a grassroots audience.
  • Helping existing TPA activists to grow their branches and working with TPA supporters to help build new branches by identifying and recruiting new local activists.
  • Establishing and overseeing the TPA Action Team – a pool of younger activists with a limited amount of time to spare who want to get involved in TPA campaigns.
  • Liaising with local and regional media to promote TPA campaigns.
  • Acting as a TPA spokesman in the media, as required.
  • Speaking to student, community and other groups about the TPA’s work, as required, and promoting collaborative campaigns on issues where our interests coincide.
  • Maintaining and improving the TPA supporter database.
  • Responding to enquiries from supporters and members of the public.
  • Maintaining the grassroots section of the TPA website and assisting with the promotion of the TPA’s campaigns through social media.
  • Generally assisting in the promotion of the TPA’s campaigns as required.

The successful candidate should have the following qualities and abilities:

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • Experience of dealing with volunteers, preferably in a campaigning capacity
  • Excellent organisational skills and the ability to coordinate events
  • Excellent written English, for the writing/editing of press releases and blog posts etc
  • Good IT skills and a familiarity with social media
  • A willingness to travel to events around Britain (for which travel expenses will of course be covered)
  • A good grasp of British geography
  • A willingness and ability to learn quickly and respond to a variety of different situations
  • An understanding of, a sympathy for, and a desire to promote the TPA’s aims and values

Salary negotiable, depending on experience.

Closing Date: Noon, Monday 17th February

Please email your CV and a covering letter to Emma Bennett via [email protected]

You can now record, blog, and tweet at council meetings. It’s the law!
Jan 2014 30

Last October, a TaxPayers’ Alliance report that I authored highlighted those councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire that were preventing residents from recording, blogging, and tweeting at council meetings. Eric Pickles then announced these rights would soon be enshrined in law. This is what he had to say:

A recent report from the Tax Payers’ Alliance revealed an alarming number of councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire who were still keeping democracy behind closed doors. Some councils had even banned local residents from recording, blogging and tweeting at council meetings. Ministers believe these councils are clinging to outdated analogue ideals in the face of a digital age.

Good news! Today the Local Audit and Accountability Act (where these rights are contained) received Royal Assent! When I attended a full council meeting of my local council recently, I was reminded that I couldn’t record proceedings. At the next meeting, I will enjoy using my new rights to record and report what’s happening in the council chamber.

For those councils who are already open, this new law will not affect them, but for those who have been determined to prevent residents from becoming citizen journalists, they are in for a rude awakening.

It is also appropriate that these new rights come into force this week, as this is my last week  as National Grassroots Coordinator for the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA). Next Monday I take up a new role as Campaign Manager for The Freedom Association. It has been a wonderful journey since June 2009 when I first became involved with the TPA and set-up the Hull & East Riding Branch. I have met and have worked with some wonderful people over those years – many of whom are good friends. Rest assured though that I will not be giving up the fight for lower taxes. That’s in my DNA!

Bath traders urge Cut Cider Tax!
Jan 2014 28

The TaxPayers’ Alliance in the South West set up their stall alongside local food and drink producers at Bath’s historic Farmers’ Market—the first in the country—situated under the beautiful Victorian glass and iron roof of what used to be the Green Park railway station in the centre of the city of Bath.

Local traders and shoppers were delighted to sign our petition calling for a cut in Cider Tax and specifically the Cider Duty Escalator, which puts the price of cider up by 2 per cent above the rate of inflation every year. Last year, following our successful , the Chancellor scrapped the Beer Duty Escalator. ‘He should do the same for cider,’ said one Bath market trader. ‘Cider making supports many small businesses round here.’ Almost a quarter of the price you pay for a pint of cider goes to the taxman.

‘Smaller cider makers producing below 7,000 litres a year have an exemption from tax,’ says Richard Hudson of Dick Willows, a local craft cider producer. ‘I would like to see that extended to all small alcoholic drinks producers, such as local fruit wine. It would encourage a lot of makers to set up their own businesses, but now they can’t face the hassle and cost of it all.’

Please sign our online petition here.

Could there be a reduction in the number of Welsh councils?
Jan 2014 23

The Williams Commission has  - under what has been described and urgent and radical proposals – recommended a reduction in the number of Welsh councils from 22 to between 10 and 12. The report offered several different options for the future landscape of Welsh local government, but all involved merging authorities.

Several organisations, including the Federation of Small Businesses, have welcomed the plans as it may bring an end to duplication and complexities in services and help boost the local economy with targeted service planning on a more regional basis.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has already hit out at the commission’s findings claiming that Council Tax will have to be increased to meet service provision.  The WLGA also claims that upfront costs will be £200m, much higher than the projected £100m stated in the report. Projected savings, however, could be anywhere between £60m-£80m a year and as the WLGA primarily exists to protect its members (councils and councillors) its criticisms are to be expected.

The commission should be commended for publishing such bold proposals. It is possible that some local identity maybe lost, but potential savings of  up to £80m certainly should be examined in further detail.

 

Why we need to reduce the cost of parking fines
Jan 2014 20

Bath & North East Somerset Council (B&NES) has one of the biggest surpluses in parking charges and fines outside of London—£5.3 million in 2011/12. No one enjoys an unexpected fine or charge, but the high cost of parking fines are, more often than not, out of all proportion to the offences committed.

This leaves many feeling particularly aggrieved. This is largely due to the high cost of parking fines that are out of all proportion to the offences committed. We are, after all, mostly talking about drivers merely looking for spaces in which to park their car, while otherwise going about their lawful activities, and falling foul of local regulations. Especially so when compared to fines levied for other more serious offences. Recently, a Bath driver was fined £95 and given three penalty points for driving without due care and with an insecure load. That is not much above your average parking fine.

Because of this anomaly, the government is now looking at reducing the general cost of parking fines. Indeed, the Commons Transport Committee (CTC) recently said it was ‘hard to justify parking fines that are substantially more than the fines for more serious offences like speeding.’ Furthermore, their report said: ‘The Government should also work with the Mayor of London and local authorities outside London to identify ways in which the burden on the motorist of penalty charges for minor parking violations can be reduced.’

As for the effect of parking fines on local businesses, the CTC concluded: ‘It is unacceptable that local authorities set enforcement regimes that effectively force some companies to incur Penalty Charge Notices costing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year for carrying out their business.’

Commenting on the CTC’s recommendations, Transport minister Robert Goodwill said ‘These changes could see the end of CCTV being used for on-street parking, unnecessary yellow lines and the introduction of compulsory “grace periods” at the end of paid on-street parking.’

The reduction of the cost and issuing of parking fines would be welcomed by drivers who have, for too long, felt that town halls treat them as cash cows to be milked at any and every occasion

Nottinghamshire County Council looking to increase Council Tax
Jan 2014 17

Many councils across the country are consulting with local residents on possible Council Tax increases. Nottinghamshire County Council is just completing its consultation called ‘The Budget Challenge 2014/15’. The response rate was good, with over 6000 people completing a form and sending it to the council, and the council has revealed that 45 per cent of respondents favour an increase of 1.99 per cent, rather than an inflation busting and referendum triggering 5 per cent.

What doesn’t appear to have been offered was a Council Tax cut, or even a freeze. In a similar way to Buckinghamshire residents, Nottinghamshire residents have just engaged in a loaded referendum. It goes like this:

You put out lots of scary numbers about how much money the council has to save. You then say the only way to save the money is by cutting services (which implies there isn’t any waste at all). You then ask which services local people think should be cut. You then say the cuts would not be as bad if Council Tax increases by x per cent, knowing that those responding will not want to opt for a large increase. This then presents a smaller increase as justifiable, and hey presto, you can say that the majority of local people consulted favour an increase of 1.99 per cent.

Of course, what the council could have done was accept the Government’s offer of a grant in return for a freeze. Whether residents would have opted for that is unknown, however for a consultation to be genuine, this option should have been on the table.

High business rates forcing Bath shops to close
Jan 2014 16

Long established shops in Bath are closing their doors, thanks in part to continuing high business rates. The latest is bag shop Rickards of Bath in Northumberland Place, serving customers for over 100 years. When it first opened in 1910, it sold bags made by the family in their own factory in the city.

‘Retail has changed dramatically over the last ten years and has become much harder during the recession,’ says Rickards current owners. ‘The increase in online trading, rising overheads and high business rates have all added to our decision.’

‘Sadly our Council have already gone on record claiming there is no problem with business rates and that demand for shops was high,’ says Bath resident Julian Deverell and campaigner for independent shops in Bath. He blames Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) council for continuing to charge sky-high rents and not providing a more business friendly environment for independent shops.

‘As far as B&NES are concerned the shop premises will simply be filled with another business,’ says Deverell, ‘be it a corporate chain or another independent who braves Bath’s astonishing costs. The high street in this country is slipping away and councils like B&NES are part of the problem.’

Extortionate business rates, high council rents and parking costs have all been cited by Bath traders in the past as a hindrance to their businesses.  When long-established Bath Model Centre recently closed after 80 years of business in the city centre, Bob Graham, father of the final owner, said the high cost of trading didn’t help.

‘It is a lack of trade and steep overheads,’ said Graham. ‘The business rates are going up again in April, they are extortionate, and we have high rent. The council is to blame. In the past ten years it has done everything it can to stop people coming to Bath. The cost of parking, over zealous traffic wardens, they are booking people left, right and centre.’

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