The lead article on the council tax freeze in the spring edition of Ribble Valley News reads more like a Conservative Party election leaflet than impartial, factual news from the council.
The article was strong on political rhetoric but somewhat weak on facts and while I accept that local government finance is a complex area, I think the public deserves better.
Council leader Michael Ranson states Ribble Valley BC has frozen the council tax “...despite being given the go-ahead by the Government to increase it by 3.6%”.
I don’t believe the Government would agree with this view as its aim was quite clearly to persuade local authorities not to increase council tax and the Government once again offered incentive payments to those authorities that either froze or cut their council tax.
What the Government actually said was Ribble Valley could have increased the council tax by 3.6 % without the need to put the issue to the voters in a referendum – quite different from saying they approved of such an increase.
In fact Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) referred to authorities that increased council tax by an amount just below that which would have triggered a referendum, as “democracy dodgers”.
Coun. Ranson also says the council has never relied on Government hand-outs to fund services but instead has employed “strong financial discipline and prudent management”.
The latter statements may well be true but in 2011/12 RVBC received over £78,000 from the Government as an incentive not to increase its council tax. The same amount was received in 2012/13 and without these payments the council tax would have had to rise by 2.5 % or the equivalent amount found in cuts.
Again in 2013/14 RVBC has taken up the Government’s offer of £31,000 (equivalent to 1%) as an incentive not to increase council tax and it will get the same amount again next year.
In addition, the council has received payments from the Government under the New Homes Bonus. This is a sum paid to the authority for six years for every new or converted home that comes onto the housing base and it amounts to around £1,400 per home.
Last year the council received £179,000 under this scheme and in this financial year it will get over £330,000.
The more houses built, the more the council gets for as long as the scheme continues.
Had it not been for all these payments from the Government, the council tax would have had to have increased significantly both last year and again this year to deliver a balanced budget.
Whether you refer to the payments from the Government as bonuses, incentives or hand-outs, the result is the same.
I don’t criticise the council for receiving this money from the Government and it should continue to make every effort to bring in as much as possible from whatever funding streams are available.
But please, in future, use council tax money to give us the facts, not the political rhetoric.