TaxPayers’ Alliance activists gathered on a warm sunny day in Chelmsford last Friday to protest against high rates of council tax in Essex. Essex County Council recently froze Council Tax, but its rates are still too high.
The average Band D bill in Chelmsford is £1,503. That's £35 higher than the national average, which stands at £1,468. Actually cutting the tax should be on the Council's agenda.
Despite government action to freeze Council Tax,many households are still feeling the pinch of higher taxes. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 580,000 families are paying an average of £149 more in council tax than they did before April 2013.
“It's ridiculous”, said one signatory to our petition. “A lot of families are still struggling, councils need to let people keep more of their own money”.
Essex County Council has spent £90 million over three years on external consultants and temporary staff, £3.3 million on a traffic congestion scheme that could have been solved for much less by removing a pedestrian crossing, and £2.3 million over six years on so-called compromise agreements - or gagging orders, more accurately.
By contrast, down in London Hammersmith and Fulham Council has cut its rates by 20 per cent over seven years by sharing public services with neighbouring councils, selling unused council buildings, encouraging staff to set up mutual and social enterprises, and reforming the way services are delivered – for instance by outsourcing street cleaning, parks maintenance and human resources.
Fears that cuts there would harm public services have proven to be unfounded. Six out of ten people (of 1,000 asked) said they actually thought their local services were better after five years of spending cuts in an ICM poll last year.
The TaxPayers' Alliance recently produced a report on 201 ways councils can save money, from sharing services to a freeze on recruitment. Perhaps councils should take a look before thinking about more tax hikes.