In a debate at Kettering Borough Council the other night about council tax and benefits our local MP, who was clearly not in favour of our motion to offer the same amount of support that other councils do, spoke about the County Council’s position. In response I corrected some of what he had said and in doing so pointed out there had been a rise of 3.95% last year, and promised there would be at the same rise again this year if not more.
Another Conservative Councillor then took me to task saying that wasn’t definite, and that their draft budget was out for consultation and still hadn’t been finalised. Technically he is quite correct and I happily concede that point, although in reality he and I both know the chance of them actually reducing the amount they are planning to charge is none existent, so I stand by my claim that tax will go up at NCC by at least 3.95%, so much so that and if doesn’t I will swim across Wicksteed Park lake naked!
Some people will know that councils are not legally allowed to put up the rate of council tax by more than 2% without holding a referendum and may therefore be confused. So how can I be sure the County Council will go above that?
It’s down to a little thing called the Adult Social Care precept which is a smoke and mirrors technique devised by the Tory government to fool us. It was brought in last year for two reasons, the first is the simple fact that even the Conservatives began to realise they had gone too far with their public sector cuts agenda, and had starved councils of so much cash they were on the verge of bankruptcy and were not able to deliver services.
This was especially true of upper tier councils like our County Council who have responsibility for social care and we all know what a mess Northamptonshire has been in over the last few years around both children’s and adult social services with damming OFSTED reports and a reduction in service and financial overspends.
The only way out for the government therefore was to find more money for councils, and they couldn’t do this by simply increasing the grant they give to councils (which has always been worth far more than whatever amount is raised locally from council tax payers) without breaking their promises on their austerity agenda.
They couldn’t ask councils to increase their council tax because they had put laws in place stopping doing that without a referendum and everybody knows that if you ask people if they want to pay more council tax what the answer would be. So adding on a further amount in the form of a precept was just a clever way of allowing councils to put up council tax.
The other reason it’s confusing is that it gives people the impression that they are paying for social care themselves directly through this extra amount which of course isn’t true because it really is just a drop in the ocean and only scratches the surface of what’s needed.
We have an increasing ageing population with people living much longer and having much more complex needs shown for example in the massive increase of people with dementia who need specialist and complex care. The chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability summed this up nicely this week when he said “this will do little to plug the £2.6 billion social care funding gap”
The 2% levy last year therefore has made very little difference to the county council’s funding gap and is why the government is now talking about actually increasing that levy and allowing councils to put up peoples council tax bills by even more, but all this does is to switch the burden from the overall tax pot of central government to local tax payers.
This is also unfair because wealthy areas that collect the highest amounts of council tax and often not the areas of greatest need so some councils can charge this levy where perhaps they don’t need it as much where areas that do don’t raise as much cash from charging it, a point that has been recognised by ministers and the CEO of the MS society who says “the level of care people receive shouldn’t be a gamble based on where they live”.
The new system therefore effectively just pushes part of the bill onto local tax payers while allowing the government to go ahead with planned tax cuts to corporations and allows central government to push any blame for failing services onto local councils although in the case of Northamptonshire they clearly do have to take some blame over their financial mismanagement over a number of years.
STOP PRESS: Since writing this blog the government have announced their new rules and the County Council’s Chief Executive has announced to Councillors the Adult Social Precept will now be 3% making the total tax rise for next year 4.95%