Council Tax: Expert discusses potential rise
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In England, council tax pays for local budgets and can be spent where the local authority sees fit. Currently a referendum is triggered if councils want to raise council tax by more than two percent, although they can also raise it by a further one percent specifically for social care. However, this has now changed and the HM Treasury analysis has predicted almost all councils would increase payments by the full five percent.
Many Britons feel frustrated with the announcement after having already faced several council tax increases but had local service funding cut. Fiona Scott, 56, a PR consultant at Scott Media is one of those people.
She said: “I honestly don’t feel like the amount it has gone up reflects the service we are receiving. Over the last 20 years, we’ve paid so much more but seen so much cut away and nothing given.”
Fiona and her husband moved into her current four-bedroom home in Swindon in 1997, and since 2004, she has seen a 134 percent increase in how much council tax she pays each month.
In 2004, Fiona paid £104 a month over the next six years she saw 60 percent increase with her paying £167 in 2010.
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Since 2010, she has seen a further increase of over 40 percent with her monthly bill currently standing at £244 each month.
She said: “One example everyone can relate to is bins, we used to have our bins collected every week now it’s every fortnight or even longer for some bins.
“Our town centre is also completely neglected, there is nothing that would make you want to go there and wander around. It is all pretty much closed up, so it’s quite ugly now.
“We don’t really have local shops anymore either so we have to leave the area to pick up anything really. The council will offer two hours of free parking on a Sunday when there is nothing in the town centre which would make it worthwhile to be there.
“Why waste money on that? I’d much rather pay for parking, and the money be used to fund something like a market.”
Fiona says that it is not just the basic services such as bin collections that get her frustrated but the impact the cuts to spending have had on the area.
She said: “I just think there is no vision for Swindon anymore, no forward thinking, nothing is being done to entice people to come here which would actually generate money for the town and it begs the question of why could people stay here.
“We don’t have museums which share our rich history as a Victorian industrial town, we’ve had libraries closed and a community theatre shut down.
“We are not thinking about the future because it’s just about ‘balancing the books’ now.”
Fiona acknowledged that all local councils are in need of more money and said she would actually be “more than happy” to pay even more.
She explained: “I would be happy to pay more council tax but I want to see what it is being spent on, I’m happy to pay for my green bin to be collected if that money can go to something vital and worthwhile.
“I want homeless people off the streets and into proper accommodation and support, I want to see us with a leisure centre, I want better roads and nicer parks but we are not getting that.
“We are only just treading water and not moving forward.”
Responding to the news from the Local Government Association which reported council tax would need to increase by 20 percent in order to cover current council spending, Fiona said: “I’m not exaggerating, but I really think people could be out on the streets protesting like they did with the poll tax. It won’t be welcome.”
Fiona said an increase to already high council tax bills across the country would “only put more people into arrears”.
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She said: “They’ll just be chasing up debts from people who cannot do another increase in bills.
“Piling more debt onto people who are struggling to pay will just lead to more cost to the council in the long run because if you do not have the money you cannot pay it, simple as that.”
Fiona believes there needs to be a rethink of how local councils are funded and how council tax is collected as the current system is “clearly not working”.
She said: “It’s literally unsustainable, there really does need to be an inclusive discussion on how we are funding things. We need to ask what are the core things we need to be paid for by the council and that everyone in the local community needs to contribute to.”
Fiona highlighted that services that were considered vital needed to be noted, and discussions on what services could be paid for should be had.
She also noted that the size of local councils could be looked at and reduced and more outreach and community involvement in big decisions could be introduced.
Fiona added: “These decisions have to be made otherwise the entire system will topple over.”
Fiona explained how she loves her area and she is very proud of her community but what she wasn’t proud of was the decisions of her local council and she would like things to change, not just for her council, but for all councils across the UK.
She said: “I love the town, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t, it’s got a diverse and lovely population, its history is so interesting yet here we are with a small vision, and it’s just not doing us any good short term let alone the long term.
Councillor Keith Williams, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for climate change, finance and commercialisation, told Express.co.uk: “Like all councils across the country, we have spent a number of years grappling with the unprecedented financial challenges caused by reductions in the amount of money we receive from central government and soaring demand for the services we provide to vulnerable children and adults.
“This pressure on our adult social care and children’s services is immense and the cost of that demand accounts for around 80 per cent of our budget. In order to go some way to meeting those cost pressures we have had to increase council tax. It is not something I want to do, but in order to continue to provide these vital statutory services we need to raise additional money to fund it.
“The average person in Swindon will never have cause to access these services, which is a really difficult message to land with people, especially as most residents are seeing their council tax bills go up each year. The nature of our budget means just a fifth is going towards paying for those visible services residents come to expect like bin collections, road repairs and our country parks.
“We’ve also had to provide services slightly differently. For example, a charitable social enterprises runs our leisure centres and parish councils have taken on the running of some of our community libraries and other local services.
“Although we face considerable challenges in providing our day-to-day services, the Council is always planning for the future and helping to shape our communities by securing hundreds of millions of pounds from the Government to pay for vital infrastructure before new homes are built. Work is also already underway to invest in some of our key heritage buildings to help bring them back to life for the benefit of local people.”
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