South West TPA supporter Malcolm Leaver has been doggedly pursuing his local council for information on the cost to the taxpayer of street repairs in his neighbourhood—but has been given the run around by a South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) reluctant to cough up the details.
Replacing a footpath and kerb on a small stretch of a road near him cost a whopping £44,202, but he only found out the daily rate by mistake. ‘They sent me the time sheets in error,’ says Leaver. “They show rates of £850 a day for nine hours but these were not always worked as full days. Some of these days were not worked at all and some only part and casual. Some times I even noticed them shopping in the morning or sleeping in their lorry in the afternoon.”
“As you can probably appreciate,” came a response from SGC, “there is no system that can ensure that a workforce is fully engaged in productive work for 100% of the time on site and there will invariably be lost time or non productive time as there would be [in] any organization whether operational or office based.”
A nearby road surface was replaced, but within a year several parts of it had new cracks and these sections were replaced under a separate budget of £10,765. “SGC are of the opinion that their direct labour gangs are non-profit making,” says Leaver, “and even with the poor standard of work and costly repairs they infer the cost is cheaper than using an “outside contractor”. This road now has several “crazed/sunken” areas.”
Are local taxpayers getting value for money with these road repairs? From his research, Leaver doubts it. “If the cost is close to the budget, no one seems to worry.”
On another occasion, work was carried out on a nearby pedestrian crossing. ‘The work started with one man using a pneumatic tool to break up the pavement on the east side of the road,’ noted Leaver, ‘whilst the private haulier was parked on the grass verge on the opposite side of the road. One questions how much one man is going to break up to substantiate the use of a large tipper lorry privately hired? After that initial start, no work was carried out the next day or so.’
Again and again, Leaver has asked to see documents referring to the cost of these repair projects, but the council has not provided them or dragged their feet over several months. Following an official complaint to the council about this, their Head of Legal and Democratic Services acknowledged that SGC had raised expectations over the public inspection of documents that they did not meet. The council officer advised a payment of £100 in compensation to Leaver ‘in recognition of the frustration and inconvenience he has experienced in this matter.’
As for the lack of value for taxpayers’ money, the officer responded by saying “contractors and machinery are hired on a day rate (a 9 hour minimum period)” and that “such contractors would have to work around the progress of the scheme and would not be continuously working through the period… There are therefore times when there appears to be inactivity but this is a necessary requirement of completing a scheme.” Does that include sleeping in a lorry in the afternoon?
Today sees Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, sign into law new rules banning councils from forbidding citizens and journalists from reporting council proceedings in blogs and on social media.
This marks a victory in our long-running campaign to open up democracy at the local level. Andrew Allison, our former National Grassroots Co-ordinator, wrote a crucial report for the TPA in October of last year that provided the Government with enough evidence to drive through the changes.
These changes are great news for taxpayers, as democracy should never live behind closed doors. The Government is to be congratulated for making local government a more transparent, open place.
PwC senior economist and former Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member Andrew Sentance has called for political parties to embrace a ‘serious tax overhaul’ in an article for the Telegraph. The ‘Citizens’ Jury’ convened by the consulting group recommended substantial tax reform which echoes much of the findings of our own 2020 Tax Commission’s Single Income Tax.
The group’s report, ‘Taxation in the UK: a citzens’ view‘, recommended ending the slab rate structure of Stamp Duty, abolishing Inheritance Tax and abolishing National Insurance, replacing it with a single tax on income. It reported on the views of a panel of 22 members of the public selected to broadly represent national demographics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that National Insurance was ‘sneaky’, that the system ‘should just be upfront’ and that it ‘should all be rolled into one’. They also objected to a Mansion Tax.
Not all the recommendations were advisable. Calls to change the rules on VAT to include non-essential foodstuffs such as caviar, for example, would lead to a field-day for lawyers with an inevitable slew of new legal questions along the lines of whether Jaffa Cakes are ‘cakes’ and so excepted from VAT or ‘biscuits’ and therefore subject on account of being chocolate covered. The argument against expanding VAT was best made by Telegraph deputy editor (and chairman of the 2020 Tax Commission) Allister Heath in his recent column.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, the group backed the principle of a single rate of Income Tax but nonetheless shied away from recommending it. They thought that a single Income Tax rate ‘felt fair’ and had benefits in terms of simplicity, clarity and transparency. But they did not want to implement such a system now because they rightly opposed increasing benefits to ensure nobody would be worse off:
I think if we were one of those states after the breakup of the Soviet Union, this would be the one to go for. But you just can’t do it here and now, can you?
Here’s the thing: yes, you can. But it requires a serious rethinking of what the Government is for and what it needs to do. As our 2020 Tax Commission found, you can implement a Single Income Tax at a rate of 30 per cent, which would provide a cut for all taxpayers. That would raise 33 per cent of national income for the Treasury, compared to the 37 per cent the current system raises. In other words we’d need a Government like Switzerland or Australia’s rather than Spain or New Zealand’s.
Not only would such a system be much clearer, simpler and fairer, it would also provide significant economic benefits by sharpening incentives to work, save and invest in Britain. Dr Sentance is right, politicians should take note.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance is proud to present the eighth Town Hall Rich List, the Who’s Who of senior local government executives which details the job titles, full remuneration and many of the names of all local council employees whose remuneration exceeds £100,000.
Praised in the past by politicians on both sides of the House of Commons, the Town Hall Rich List remains the definitive guide to senior executive pay in local government, making it a vital tool for taxpayers wanting to judge which authorities are delivering the best value for money.
Executive pay in many town halls across the UK continues to be insulated from economic reality, despite the urgent need to find savings and the fact that many councils claim that they have insufficient cash to fund frontline services, and enforce pay freezes on their rank and file staff.
The key findings of the research are:
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
It is good news that the number of senior council staff making more than £100,000 a year is falling, although that may only be because many authorities have finished paying eye-watering redundancy bills.
“Sadly, too many local authorities are still increasing the number of highly paid staff on their payroll. It’s particularly galling in places where councils are pleading poverty and demanding more and more in Council Tax. Taxpayers expect their council to be filling potholes, not pay packets. Many rank-and-file staff in local councils will be equally appalled – at a time when councils across the country are freezing pay, it appears the money they’re saving is being used to line the pockets of town hall tycoons.
On Thursday, five people and a cardboard cut-out set out on a noble quest: to persuade the good people of Luton Airport to support our campaign to abolish Air Passenger Duty (APD), a tax levied on all people flying out of the UK. After marching dramatically (well, taking a train) to Luton Airport, we set up a stall in the lobby outside the departure lounge, put on our armour (TaxPayers’ Alliance t-shirts) and primed our clipboards for battle. Armed with facts and figures, we were prepared. Continue Reading