Alan Dean

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Stansted North and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Learn more

“Fairness” letter to local editors

by Alan Dean on 11 March, 2015

I sent the following letter to local newspapers. It has not appeared in today’s Walden Local, though that paper has covered the issues in editorial columns in previous weeks.

Sir

An annual £9 council tax cut for someone living in a five- or six-bedroom house is not even going to buy an evening meal out for one. A refund of under £3 for a single parent working family in a 2-bedroom small house might just put meals on the table for one day. A tax refund of £4.25, though not enormous, would mean more to the single parent than the local mansion owner.

The main budget debate at Uttlesford District Council has been about fairness to all members of our community and whether Uttlesford should be cutting the council tax rate at all. Was it a pre-election bribe and gimmick by the Tories which will be regretted in future years as funding for our councils starts to dry up?

Today there is several million pounds of surplus money in UDC’s coffers thanks to Westminster’s New Homes Bonus handouts. They are bringing in about £4,000,000 a year. The problem is that the present Conservative administration doesn’t know what to do with much of it. The council tax cut is to help hide its embarrassment.

In the end all parties agreed last month that a modest cash handout of the government’s New Homes Bonus should go this year to existing households. But the Liberal Democrat councillors voted for the same amount of cash, £4.25, to be knocked off the council tax bills and to go equally to all households rather than giving more cash-back to wealthier households, as the Tories have done. The Conservatives defeated our proposal.

A lot of the surplus money should be used to encourage improvements to local infrastructure so we can accommodate population growth. The Conservatives’ best attempt at this is to place from April £1,400,000 in a Strategic Initiative Fund. This sounds good until one spots in the financial plan that the money will stay locked in the bank and unused at least until April 2020.

Almost £1,000,000 has remained locked in the bank for several years to support the planning service when a proverbial rainy day comes. It is now clear that some of that money will have to be used. After all, the Conservative administration has just poured a good part of £2,000,000 down the drain on a failed Local Plan. Fresh money will be needed to do the job properly over the next two years. It should take no longer if competent and realistic councillors take charge of the council and the preparation of a new Local Plan from May.

Yours truly

Cllr Alan Dean

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition, Uttlesford District Council

   4 Comments

4 Responses

  1. Geoff Powers says:

    Apposite and timely! I hope that all of our voters will take the trouble to inform themselves about UDC’s financial position before 7 May by working through the detail of the council’s financial statements now available on line.

  2. Andrew Ketteridge says:

    Typically misleading Alan, as usual. There is no rebate, no “giving back” of New Homes Bonus or Council Tax. The administration is forward looking and not backward looking. There will be a reduction of 3% to Uttlesford’s part of the total council tax bill for 2015/16, compared to 2014/15, for all council tax payers because the officers and administration have managed particularly well the council’s finances. The 3% reduction for everyone is fair. And democratically decided.

  3. Keith says:

    The Conservative financial expert has spoken !!

    Actually the 3% cut is naked electioneering, it is unsustainable and more reliant on government subsidies than prudent management.

    If the council were so adept at financial management it is reasonable to ask why they were so utterly incompetent at putting together a viable draft local plan.

    That was similarly ‘democratically decided’ (rammed through against any opposition by the Tory majority) which begs the question, why was a so demonstrably flawed plan allowed to be put to the inspector? Could it be that members of the group did not give sufficient thought to what was before them? Could it be that the assertions of cabinet were taken at face value?

    A cabinet not overly endowed with planning expertise can hardly be expected to understand how to properly conduct the plan preparation process, certainly the outcome calls into question the manner in which it was carried out.

    A point to ponder: if the council had not squandered £2million on the failed local plan, necessitating the expenditure of considerably more money on preparation of a replacement plan, what sort of cut in council tax might we have been able to contemplate in years to come?

    I will not congratulate the council for the current proposed cut, nor can I commend them for their ineptitude regarding the draft local plan. I think that residents will be well aware of the issues when they go into the polling booths in May. Given a choice between proven incompetence and potential improvements across the board I think they will make the right choice.

  4. […] including the solar panel scheme. The depot scheme is a start but is not yet ambitious enough. I recently wrote about their £1,400,000 Strategic Initiative Fund which their latest financial plan shows being locked away in the bank and unused at least until […]

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