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.
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.
Cllr Alan Dean
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition, Uttlesford District Council4 Comments