“Demand made for more police in East Devon after council tax hike”

Owl cannot understand how East Devon Tory councillors, who have voted time and time again for austerity, who have preened themselves for having one of the lowest council tax rates in the country, and instituted savage cuts can act surprised when they get less for more!

And don’t forget every time there is a vote in Parliament to cut anything – our two MPs vote for those same cuts – unless they affect their salaries or tax breaks for the rich or farming, of course in which case they fight tooth and nail for them!

“Give us more police’, East Devon councillors have demanded, to help tackle increasing incidents of disorder in the region.

Wednesday night’s full council meeting saw councillors agreed to write to the Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police to recognise the needs of East Devon when deciding how to allocate extra resources after the council tax rise will enable 85 new officers to be recruited.

Councillors demanded that extra police be provided to the region, particularly in light of the number of PCSOs being cut from the current 196 to 150.

It comes after the Police and Crime Panel chose not to exercise their veto on Alison Hernandez’s proposals that would see council tax rise for £24 a year for the average Band D council tax payer.

Cllr Tom Wright, who proposed the motion, said that over the last two years, the increase on tax payers is 20 per cent, so residents should expect to see a significant improvement in the service.

“As East Devon residents are the biggest contributors to the police budget in Devon, other than Plymouth, it is only fair that we should get a fair share of the larger cake.

“The increase for this year that the police are getting from us is an extra £1.5m and for that we should get more police on the streets.”

Cllr Alan Dent added: “PCSOs can nip in the bud problems that can arise.”

He gave the example of a problem of people coming from North Devon to Budleigh Salterton to do wheelies in the car park.

Cllr Dent said: “They were zooming around across the car park. I got cross and took pictures of them. They gave me an earful, but I gave the pictures to our PCSOS, and in 24 hours it was dealt with and we never saw them again.”

He said that there was another incident where garden furniture was stolen from a show house. Cllr Dent again took photographs of the perpetrators, gave them to the PCSO, who said ‘I know who they are and will have a word with their parents.’

“That is the value of PCSOs and why we need them in the community,” he added.

Cllr Brian Bailey said that PCSOs stop people going down into the depth of drink and drugs. He added: “Extra funding mean officers can go into schools and educate people and get them on the right track.”

He said that there was another incident where garden furniture was stolen from a show house. Cllr Dent again took photographs of the perpetrators, gave them to the PCSO, who said ‘I know who they are and will have a word with their parents.’

“That is the value of PCSOs and why we need them in the community,” he added.

Cllr Brian Bailey said that PCSOs stop people going down into the depth of drink and drugs. He added: “Extra funding mean officers can go into schools and educate people and get them on the right track.”

And Cllr Eileen Wragg said that extra police would help tackle the ‘proliferation in drug use in Exmouth which is harming our youngsters, and has even resulted in the death of some of them’.

The motion, calling for the chief constable to recognise the needs of East Devon when deciding how to allocate extra resources, received almost unanimous support from the council, with only Cllr Megan Armstrong abstaining.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/demand-made-more-police-east-2599799

Sunday Times: “Council stings residents of Cranbrook for ‘new town tax’ of £370 a year”

Owl says: they don’t mention the district heating system – which keeps residents tied to one supplier – E.on – for 80 (yes EIGHTY years)!

“Local authorities and developers are charging for supplying services in new towns that are free to other homeowners.

Residents of a new town in Devon are being charged an extra £370 a year in council tax in a practice — already being called “the new town tax” — that could spread across the country.

Cranbrook, a new town to the east of Exeter, is charging band F properties a £370 surcharge, rising to £512 for band H properties. Residents receive no more services than people elsewhere in Devon.

Mark Williams, chief executive of East Devon district council, said: “It is very likely that other towns not just in East Devon but elsewhere will have to adopt a similar approach if they wish to maintain their local assets or facilities.

“We believe that the approach adopted by Cranbrook town council is likely to be replicated across the country, especially in areas where there are areas of significant new housing.”

Cranbrook, whose population will eventually exceed 25,000 people, was managed by developers who levied an “estate rent charge” on residents.

The charge was a contribution for the upkeep of facilities such as landscaped gardens and bin collections. When the town council took over responsibility for the services, it kept most of the charge as an addition to the council tax.

Activist groups have sprung up to help residents nationally who have moved into new homes only to discover they are at the mercy of developers on service costs for green spaces or parking. Developers can levy fees because local authorities are not obliged to “adopt” new housing and provide the services.

Cathy Priestley of Homeowners Rights Network, a pressure group, has been contacted by people from 457 new estates housing 86,000 residents with fees ranging from £100 to more than £700 a year. The developers include Bovis, Linden, Persimmon, Redrow and Taylor Wimpey.

She said: “Buyers are lumbered with hidden estate taxes no matter who collects them or who is to blame for this set-up. Stop the rot! Adopt the lot!”

The prospect of permanent higher council taxes for buyers of homes on greenfield sites will be controversial. The government is supporting a housebuilding drive intended to benefit younger people and the “squeezed middle”.

Kevin Blakey, chairman of Cranbrook council, justified the council tax surcharge by saying a lot of people “simply couldn’t afford” to pay the developer’s flat-rate service charge “and the collection rates were going to be pretty awful”.

He added: “There are no council houses but 40% of the first phase of development was given over to social housing managed by housing associations. These charges [were] being applied to people in East Devon who are probably least able to afford it.”

Blakey said that even though the town council would provide services more efficiently than the developers, the charges reflected the cost of maintaining trees and green spaces, including a country park, insisted on by the district council. The residents have to meet the costs even though it is open to everyone. “Our arguments have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

Williams said: “There are no rules. The government has allowed developers to pass their obligations directly onto new home owners and the ability to remedy the situation lies with the government. This is a national issue.”

Source: Sunday Times (paywall)

“Local authorities forced to cut council tax support sees surge in unpaid tax bills” (well, duh!)

“Around 90% of English councils have been forced cut council tax support for working age claimants, meaning many low-income households have fallen behind with their council tax bills, according to new research.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has highlighted the impact of the government’s decision to abolish the centralised council tax support (CTS) for low-income households in 2013, which has seen an extra 1.3 million working-age households sent a council tax bill.

Nearly five million households received localised tax support in 2017-18, costing local authorities a total of £4.1bn – and 2.4 million working-age people received support, with an average benefit of £770 per year.
But the IFS has estimated that councils have failed to collect one-quarter of the extra council tax that low-income households have been billed as a result of the funding cuts.

This explosion of unpaid council tax is around 10 times higher than the 2.5% of council tax uncollected by local authorities under the old CTS system.

CTS schemes have also continued to become less generous since they have suffered funding cuts and were brought under local council control – and the report reveals that low-income households in poor parts of England are more likely to have been affected than those in affluent areas.

Director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, Mark Franks, said: “The fact that local authorities are unable to collect around one quarter of the additional council tax they have asked for indicates that support schemes are not working as effectively as they could.

“This important research should help in reviewing the design of council tax support schemes and the benchmarks they are based on.”

The report stated that giving people an entirely new bill is what seems so problematic with this type of tax collection.

Thomas Pope, one of the authors of the report and an IFS researcher, commented: “Many low-income households do not pay this new bill, almost regardless of its size. From their point of view, these changes have clearly increased problems with council tax arrears.

“From councils’ point of view, they are likely to receive significantly more council tax if they increase bills for those already paying some council tax than if they try to raise the same extra money from those who currently have no bill to pay.”

http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/local-authorities-forced-to-cut-council-tax-support-sees-surge-in-unpaid-tax-bills

Bankrupt Tory council gets special treatment and audit bill balloons

Owl wonders how it would have been treated if it had not been a Tory council …

Its audit bill has ballooned:

“In its final audit report released this week, auditor KPMG said delays have been caused by the slow and patchy provision of information by the council and departures of key staff at the authority.

The extra work caused by the delays would more than quadruple its original fee of £71,250, it said.

The report said: “We stated during the audit committee on 26 November 2018 that this had now risen, at that date, to approximately £300,000 in total (i.e. including original scale fee).”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/delays-cause-northampton-audit-bill-to-balloon/

and

It is being allowed to raise an extra 2% on council tax without the (legal) need to hold a referendum:

“The council had already proposed raising council tax by 2.99%, the maximum amount it could do before holding a local vote.

The final settlement stated: “For 2019-20, the relevant basic amount of council tax of Northamptonshire County Council is excessive if the authority’s relevant basic amount of council tax for 2019-20 is 5% or more than 5% greater than its relevant basic amount of council tax for 2018-19”. …

When classified as “excessive”, a local authority must hold a referendum on its proposed tax hike.

In November, in a bending of the rules by the government, Northamptonshire was given permission to use £70m of capital receipts to help balance its budget.

The final statement otherwise largely confirmed what was contained in the earlier provisional settlement in December, with core spending power rising by 2.8% in cash terms from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20.

In real terms this is almost a freeze.”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/northamptonshire-thrown-a-lifeline-again/

Council tax, stamp duty or a home value tax?

“COUNCIL tax and stamp duty should be scrapped and replaced by a new annual levy based on the value of people’s homes, a powerful think tank has said.

The radical plans put forward by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) would see households pay yearly property taxes based on the current market price of their home.

It argued the move would help reduce wealth inequality between those who own a home and those who don’t.

The think tank claimed housing is currently “undertaxed” relative to other assets, distorting investment behaviour and contributing to inequality between homeowners and renters.

A property tax rate of 0.5 per cent would mean an annual tax bill of £1,243 for the owner of an averagely priced UK home valued at £248,611, the IPPR said.

The think tank claimed if the new property tax was set at 0.5 per cent it would raise at least as much as current council taxes. …

Carys Roberts, senior economist at IPPR, said: “Council tax is a regressive tax as it falls disproportionately on those with lower incomes and wealth.

“It’s also outdated, as it’s based on valuations that have not been updated since 1992.

“A new new property tax would be far more progressive, and would effectively capture increases in house prices in a way the current system does not.”

Property owners have seen their wealth and income grow, while rising numbers are locked out of home ownership and must pay increasingly high rents, according to the IPPR.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7448976/property-tax-scrap-council-tax-stamp-duty/

“Somerset [Tories] blames ‘broken’ [Tory] funding system for major cuts”

Too little too late, councillors. You froze your council tax and submitted yourselves willingly (nay, enthusiastically) to austerity – now reap your “reward”. Or rather cause your voters to suffer for your blind adherence over these years to the party line.

“Youth services, learning disability support and reserves contributions will be hit under new plans approved by the council.

Savings of £13m over the remainder of this financial year and £15m in total in 2019-20 are expected to be made through the plans, ratified by the council last Monday.

The young carers service was the only area given a ‘stay of execution’ while the council discusses with the carers and the families where else they could get support, such as voluntary groups. This service could still be cut.

Council leader David Fothergill said: “This is not the biggest set of savings Somerset has faced. But it is absolutely the most difficult set of decisions we have had to consider.”

He added: “The government model for funding local authorities is broken.

“Rural councils like ours don’t get the funding they need or deserve.

“I have taken every opportunity to lobby and fight to address this, but there has been no extra funding. That is hugely disappointing.”

The council also wants to make savings in areas including winter gritting, park and ride services and funding to Citizens Advice Bureau services.

Fothergill said he would be writing to the secretary of state to ask for help before the next budget.

As reported by PF in July, the council ruled out issuing a Section 114 notice, as Northamptonshire council did earlier this year. It did say at the time it would have to make “urgent decisions” to address its financial position.

The council will be consulting on proposals for councillors and staff to take two days’ unpaid leave for the next two years. Unite union has criticised this idea, saying it was “a step too far”.

Elsewhere, Fife Council is faced with a £32m budget gap by 2022, according to a council report.

The Scottish council will have to make savings of 5% every year to plug gaps in its finances, the report put to the council’s policy and coordination committee said.

The council predicted its budget gap will rise from £9.4m in 2019-20 to £23.1m in 2020-21 and reach £32.1m in 2021-22.

The report said the biggest budget pressures faced by the council include children’s services and education (48%) and health and social care (17%).

The council has been contacted for comment.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/09/somerset-blames-broken-funding-system-major-cuts

“Council cuts are putting the vulnerable at risk, Tory peer says”

“LGA chief says austerity could damage local authorities ‘beyond recognition’

Local authorities have reached the point where relentless financial cutbacks are putting the wellbeing of vulnerable adults and children at risk, the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The Tory peer Lord Porter said that after eight years of austerity during which £16bn has been stripped from municipal budgets in England, councils risked being “damaged beyond recognition” and communities depleted of vital services.

An £8bn black hole in council budgets would open up by 2023 unless ministers stepped in to close the gap between spiralling demand for adult and children’s social care services and shrinking town hall incomes, he said.

“We’ve reached a point where councils will no longer be able to support our residents as they expect, including our most vulnerable,” Porter added.

As well as problems coping with demand for services for elderly and disabled adults, the LGA says councils are struggling with an explosion in the number of children in care, and a rising bill for 80,000 homeless families placed in temporary housing.

An LGA briefing on the prospects for local government states: “The failure to properly fund these services puts the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable residents at risk, and this cannot go on.”

Porter’s intervention, ahead of the LGA annual conference, which opens in Birmingham on Tuesday, reflects councils’ increasing concern about the precariousness of local authority finances, and frustration that ministers are ignoring the escalating crisis in social care.

While the NHS last month received a five-year £20bn cash injection, the government’s plans to overhaul the funding of adult social care services, originally due in a green paper before the summer, were delayed until the autumn. Council bosses have warned that in many areas these services are on the verge of collapse.

The fragility of many individual councils’ finances has increased speculation that more local authorities could follow Northamptonshire county council into bankruptcy. In May, Tory-controlled Somerset called for an overhaul of council funding after it was warned by auditors it could go bust.

Council leaders are also worried about the political consequences of having to sacrifice popular local services such as libraries, Sure Start centres, parks and leisure centres to divert funds into core services such as social care.

Bus services in ‘crisis’ as councils cut funding, campaigners warn
Porter said: “Councils now spend less on early intervention, support for the voluntary sector has been reduced, rural bus services have been scaled back, libraries have been closed and other services have also taken a hit. More and more councils are struggling to balance their books and others are considering whether they have the funding to even deliver their statutory requirements.

“If the government allows the funding gap facing councils and local services to reach almost £8bn by the middle of the next decade, then our councils and local services will be damaged beyond recognition.”

The LGA is calling for councils’ funding problems to be addressed through a government spending review expected in spring 2019, which is likely to set out public services funding plans over the four years to 2023.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We recognise the pressures councils are facing, so we are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future. Over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7bn to help them meet the needs of their residents. On top of this, we are giving them the power to retain more of the income they get from business rates so they can use it to drive further growth in their area.”

Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities and local government secretary, said: “This new analysis is a damning verdict on eight years of Tory austerity. Our public services are straining at the seams, whilst the government continues to cut funding.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/03/council-cuts-are-putting-the-vulnerable-at-risk-tory-peer-says