ASK anyone about their local council and they’re likely to complain. Whether it’s potholes blighting the streets or planning blunders, every council has its failings. Yet each year when the buds of spring are blooming outside, householders dread the day council tax letters slip through their letterboxes. And no wonder – since the start of the millennium, council tax bills have more than doubled, over twice the rate of inflation.
Residents in almost every local authority in the country are facing council tax rises. Only Scottish taxpayers have been saved from another round of crushing hikes thanks to a cash injection from the Sturgeon government, already bankrolled by ratepayers, as the TaxPayers’ Alliance recently pointed out.
Perhaps we wouldn’t mind the yearly rise if it was well spent. But taxpayers are rightly suspicious of their local authorities’ handling of their cash. Our latest polling found the majority thought their council’s performance was ‘average’. Town halls will have to work a lot harder before residents start singing their praises.
A good place to start would be cutting back on staff pay and perks. The TPA’s latest annual Town Hall Rich List shows that last year more than 2,800 town hall employees received over £100,000 – a figure most can only dream of – with an extra 135 joining the list since the previous year. Almost 700 received over £150,000. No doubt the majority of council letters will describe a lack of funding for services as the reason behind the rate rise. Yet given these findings, taxpayers have every right to question whether they’re getting value for money out of their local authority leadership.
You would think after such an unprecedented year, town hall bosses would have read the room a little better, especially with local elections coming up. We found the top three biggest issues for people on May 6 will be their council’s general competence (36 per cent), how much money they waste (32 per cent) and council tax levels (31 per cent). It’s a clear message to town halls to get a grip on waste such as these supersized pay packets before hitting residents with another round of hikes. Indeed, 59 per cent of people think councils should freeze or cut senior staff pay and perks to help keep bills down.
The rate rises couldn’t come at a worse time. Households up and down the country are struggling to make ends meet, none more so than working-class families. From decorators to delivery drivers, carers to cleaners, ordinary taxpayers have been battered by Covid. It’s been a tough year for everyone, but the burden of the pandemic has overwhelmingly fallen on the poorest. In 2017-18, families on the lowest incomes were already losing almost half of their gross income in tax. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that this round of tax hikes is supported by only 8 per cent of voters in the social grades D and E.
Whether rich or poor, there’s one thing we can all agree on – our survey showed 74 per cent think council tax should be cut or frozen. That’s why the TaxPayers’ Alliance have launched a petition calling on local councils to stop council tax rises. Councils simply can’t carry on patting themselves on the back while whacking up taxes. At every level of government, value for money has always and will always be important, but in times like these, it’s essential.