Friday, 27 April 2012

Services or lower taxes?

I went to a local town meeting where the county and district councillors were proud to show that they had either reduced their council tax or kept it fixed for another year. Now this is commendable in trying to save people money but does it?

The cost was 600 job loses, which have meant cuts to youth services, merging of planning services with a neighbouring authority and a loss of the more skilled and experienced council workers to be replaced by cheaper and less experienced staff. Is that really a saving?

Next the county councillor tells us that the budget for the year for road projects within the area is £10,000 but we can get some of that if we can find our own contribution. A new set of traffic lights is £40,000 so that is quite a contribution for the parish to make. So keeping the council tax at its current level actually just means shifting where you get the money from to the parish who you can then call names for raising their component of the tax!

Added to this they have drawn a circle of 3 miles radius around the local secondary school and said anyone inside can walk as it is safe. That is an hour walk - in all weathers and in the dark in winter along a road where we have had a fatal accident in the last 5 years. That is very safe and so parents will have to pay for their children to go by bus ... but after all the council tax didn't go up did it?

Lastly the dear district councillor said that the cuts did not affect services (despite her own admission five minutes before that they had lost the local expertise in planning and that she had grave concerns about merging services with the neighbouring district!). "Ten years ago you would have gone into the council office and seen one member of staff reading the paper, one on the phone to a friend and only one doing any work. Now they are all working all the time", she says.

Nice, very interesting as a friend of mine worked for one of the big four accountants and they certainly did not work all the time. He told me of the hours watching the fish screen saver in Windows. So that means no slack to take up emergency problems, that means no contingency and it means over-worked and over-stressed employees with poor performance. Besides wasn't her party and many of the current leadership group running the council ten years ago? So it was their incompetence that created the situation she describes. She cannot have it both ways.

Someone also pointed out that no council staff on more than £22k have had a pay increase for the last three years. All of this is putting off paying now what you will have to pay later. You will also have to pay much more because of the lack of investment in the infrastructure and degradation of service. This is a ticking time bomb waiting for the next lot of councillors when these self-congratulatory pensioners (who alll have nice nest-eggs thank you, as well as their council allowances) finally shuffle off into "retirement" from public service.

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