By Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager
Yesterday it emerged that over thirty council leaders have signed a letter to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government urging the government to assist households in the paying of their council tax bills, amidst the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.
“One crucial way that councils up and down the country could help those struggling financially as a result of the crisis is get more support from government [sic] in helping people in financial hardship with council tax bills” the letter reads. “The coronavirus crisis has plunged many people into financial insecurity, with people losing their livelihoods overnight, and we believe that extra funding from Whitehall to assist those people is a measure that could ease some of the burden on those wondering how they will be able to put food on the table over the next few months.”
Whilst the premise of this letter - that council tax is more burdensome than ever during this crisis - is absolutely correct, the councillors’ proposed means of easing the burden are, unfortunately, misguided. Rather, these town hall leaders should be seeking a solution closer to home.
As elected politicians, they are surely aware of the strain council tax places on struggling households in their local areas. They will know as well as we do, from our polling last year, that more than three quarters of the public support a cap on council tax rises. Why then, do councils continue to ratchet up their rates year-on-year to fund ill-conceived initiatives and sky-high pay packets? Our 2020 edition of the Town Hall Rich List has revealed a staggering 2,667 council employees across the country received in excess of £100,000 in remuneration in 2018-2019 - many of which were bolstered by bonuses and pension funds that would be unheard of in the private sector. Add to that the pet projects, some of which we identified in a recent blog, which ramp up council costs further. Instead of attempting to tug at the purse strings of an already stretched central government, local authorities would do better to reassess their own budgets and ensure that they’ve eradicated every penny of wasteful spending.
As part of our coronavirus response, we’re proposing local authorities freeze their rates and refocus their money on key frontline services. MPs across the country have called for this too. This will allow struggling households to plan ahead during this difficult period, whilst councils continue to deliver the important measures required to keep their communities safe. There are plenty of talented people in local authorities who are focused on delivering more for less, but that is needed across the board. The country needs every council to cut out waste and prioritise key services without resorting to punishing tax hikes on their residents.