Great news from Hammersmith & Fulham

Congratulations to Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who have announced today that they are delivering another 3% cut in council tax.


Across the country, council tax has doubled in the last ten years and yet councils claim they still don't have enough money. Taxes, they claim, must be raised further. Services, they say, must also be cut.


H&F's example gives the lie to all this blather and blarney.


Instead of squeezing taxpayers further and starving services of investment, they have now cut taxes for two years in a row and improved their performance rating to the 4-star top ranking.


The conclusion must be that the other councils have got their policies wrong - their simplistic link between money in from taxes and performance out through services is a misrepresentation. Somewhere along the line there are clearly other sinks that money is falling into; otherwise the doubling in council tax would have had a much bigger impact on services.


It is to identify some of the inefficiencies and costly irrelevancies that have swallowed all that extra tax revenue that the TaxPayers' Alliance has launched the Council Spending Uncovered Series, the first paper of which was published this week. That paper revealed that, far from divert money into crumbling services, Britain's councils have increased spending on publicity by 130% in the last ten years. The problem is, at least in part, one of priorities - glossy newsletters, costly advertising and PR appear to be valued in many Town Halls above meals on wheels, policing, refuse collection and the other things which actually improve quality of life for ordinary people.


The Council Spending Uncovered Series aims to shine the spotlight on areas where money is spent unnecessarily, or which are wrongly prioritised at the expense of more important activities.


Hammersmith and Fulham have done a superb job of diagnosing many of these illnesses themselves. They have correctly identified the two things that should be their priorities - reducing the tax burden on hard-pressed taxpayers and delivering front line services. Everything else in between, be it surplus office space or self-congratulatory pamphlets that no-one reads, is just so much fluff. By rightly downgrading spending on irrelevant or illusory projects, they are improving the quality of services, allowing taxpayers to keep more of their own money and materially making life better for the people they were elected to serve.


That is what local Government should be about.


Even if other councils cannot find it in themselves to follow H&F's example out of a genuine wish to do the best for people, they should pay heed to the approval ratings that come with performance like this. It is so simple that politicians sometimes seem to overlook the basic fact that actually doing a good job, actually making people happy, is the best way to convince them to vote for you - and it's a great deal cheaper than trying to buy approval with spin.

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