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Friday, 9 April 2021

Council Tax

It is once more that time of the year when the charges for council services and water go up. I have a note of what we have paid in this same house over nearly 30 years. 

Charges (£)
 1993-1994    2021-2022    increase
 Council Tax     562   1727    x 3.07
 Water and Sewerage    225   758  x 3.36


According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, these bills would have multiplied just 2.08 times had they increased in line with consumer price inflation: i.e. the figures for council tax and water would have been £1,170 and £469. In other words, we are now paying half as much again as we did in 1993.

It feels like we are paying half as much again for half as much. There used to be better bus services, the dustbins were emptied more often, roads and footpaths were better maintained, there were more libraries and they were open for longer, there was an enormous choice of adult education classes in arts, crafts, sports, languages and practical subjects at a wide range of locations, there were literary and arts festivals, and concerts with visiting orchestras.

As regards water and sewerage, why should that be so much more expensive (I know, it will cost less with a water meter when the kids have finally left)? Is it because of leaks, or because of privatisation and profits?  

I don’t want to get into the murky, smoke and mirrors world of local government finances (especially the funding of schools and the police) other than to summarise Which? magazine in that the money raised from council tax goes towards funding local services such as maintaining roads, collecting bins, providing bus services, cleaning streets and social care. 

That last category accounts for one heck of a rapidly growing proportion, now approaching 60%, nearly £26 billion per year. The Local Government Association adds: “As a result, councils may have no choice but to spend much less on other important services like fixing roads or maintaining parks and libraries.”

30 comments:

  1. Having switched on late at ight to see any new posts I find I have the wrong specs on and they are back in the sitting room and I cant be bothered to go and change them. But judging by the title of your today's piece and the fact that walking out with Priscilla each day I have to negotiate us both around countless pot holes in the footpath I think it is just as well I can't struggle through reading your post in the wrong specs otherwise I shall never get to sleep for fury

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  2. Interesting info on rises vs inflation. Here in Greece 'council tax' (such as it is) is billed with electricity - fail or delay in paying it and your electricity gets disconnected... that tells you a lot about how effective municipalities used to be in collecting their taxes, leverage was required. The tax here in Piraeus is insubstantial (compared to what we paid in UK, and I write from the comfortable position of an above average income) but neither is there anything by way of social care available if the experience of a Greek colleague with an aging and infirm mother is anything to go by. I've been impressed all the years I lived in UK with the general infrastructure and the social values demonstrated there. We tend not to appreciate what we enjoy (as in 'get the benefit of') until we either see how other cultures operate on less, or an influx of SOME immigrants who look upon things we respect as an exploitable source of income (like tearing out signalling wires on railways, stealing manhole covers for scrap metal, etc etc) leaves us wondering how society functions where they come from. There is a lot more dog-eat-dog and every-man-for-himself in some societies than the average English person would be equipped to handle.

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    1. The decline in standards of behaviour, social responsibility and feeling part of a common community and nation, and the increase in a dog-eat-dog attitude, seems to get worse year by year. I don't know how it can be reversed but I do suspect it has been inadvertantly fuelled by government decisions such as housing policy. The commentator that comes on here slagging off boomers has something of a point.
      It sounds as if your electricity companies and other utilities are not privatised as much as here. Many of them are now foreign-owned maing profits that leave the country. Regarding social care, services for vulnerable children and adults struggle for adequate funding. As for the elderly, well I wouldn't want to be in a basic council-funded care home. If I need it, I hope I can afford something a bit better funded.

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  3. Water and sewage cost so much more is because of privatisation AND leaks. They don't want to waste the shareholder's profits on maintenance.

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    1. I'd rather have cheaper bills than higher dividends. Cut out the middleman.

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  4. One of the contributory factors is the Government reducing the central government grant and thus placing a higher percentage of the cost of the (reduced) services on local taxation.

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    1. A murky, smoke and mirrors world, as I said.

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  5. It doesn't help that town halls in charge of collecting and spending the council tax don't know how to run a business and do not spend wisely.

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    1. Among other things, procedures such as the Preferred Supplier system force them to pay above premium prices for ordinary products. One personal experience of this is having to pay £9 each for videotapes which I could get from Smiths at 6 for £5. As I controlled the project budget I went out and got them from Smiths and fiddled it back on expenses, for which I could have been sacked. It was one of the few projects to come in under budget.

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  6. There is no Council Tax here, we still have the old-fashioned rates system. Collected on behalf of the local parishes by central government then redistributed. This pays for refuse collection, graveyards, water and sewerage and a contribution towards roads etc. There is a consultation going on at the moment to push for an All Island Rate which would mean that rural area ratepayers would pay the same rate as those in the towns. We rural dwellers would then effectively be subsidising those residents who benefit from amenities that we don't have, such as street lighting and pavements, mains sewerage, sports facilities etc. There is some local resistance but I doubt it will be considered very carefully before we are crushed by the steamroller that is government progress.

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    1. There isn't an entirely equitable way of doing it. We should be paying more because we extended the house, but the increase only comes into effect when there is a change of ownership. Even so, the sums above show there is an annual charge of around £2,500 for every single house. That is one heck of a lot.

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  7. When I ask, what is driving the increasing costs, I am told personnel and schools. As you state services are in decline and infrastructure is in need of updating, yet costs increase every year. Some say, this is not sustainable. In my opinion, nobody wants to make the hard decisions to restructure for greater efficiency and cost reduction. (This is a viewpoint from US.)

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    1. In effect the same problems as in the UK. Most schools are now funded by central government, but the costs of supporting the elderly and vulnerable adults and children fall mainly on local government. These have been going up and up for years. It seems, whatever the system, it isn't sustainable.

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  8. Your calculations and the circular diagram suggest an increasingly woeful situation with regard to the funding of local services. Clearly - and the pandemic has emphasised this - central government needs to make new arrangements for tackling the ever increasing social care bill.

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    1. It's frightening. It could all have been predicted years ago but all we've done is kicked the can down the road over and over again, passing the costs on to the next generation.

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  9. US doesn't have council taxes in the same way as the UK, but do we pay property taxes based on the state/county we live in and those rates vary greatly from state to state. A few states don't tax income and/or pensions (mine does), but then those states have extremely high property taxes (4x what we pay). But over the same period you indicated, our property taxes in a semi-rural location have risen from around £1,058 to £2,444. Keep in mind, we have no garbage pick up (e.g. one either pays a private trash company or you take it to a local dump yourself), water/sewage service is a separate bill in the few incorporated towns with the service--everyone else has private wells/septic systems, virtually no bus service, very little street lighting/sidewalks, and almost no social services--one has to pay out of pocket for all care services. Basically, the main things covered by property tax are county admin, schools, county roads and libraries. I will say our county has good schools, keeps roads in decent shape (especially compared to all other nearby counties) and has a terrific library system, so at least we're getting something for the money.

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    1. A similar total to ours, but we get social services instead of schools which have mostly become "academies" and are therefore no longer funded out of local authority funds. There are those here who would like to see more services paid for privately by residents. It doesn't look like it will end well.

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  10. I worked for my local government for 13 years, and quit only due to that head injury four or five years ago. Local government included Fire/EMT, police, road and zoning. Local government was run by three elected trustees and the fiscal officer, me. Income went up only as property values went up; the trustees on principle would not increase millage they controlled. My job was to squeeze every last penny out of every last source and theirs was to spend within budget. I used to provide charts for our local taxpayers about the use of their money, year over year. No fiscal officer has done that since I left, though one trustee still makes the chart that shows what their millage pays toward police and what toward fire/rescue. And I'm no longer a homeowner and pay no property taxes, but my rent increased significantly last year, and it must have had a cause.

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    1. I think that rising property values and the effects of that on the rental market, all fuelled by cheap interest rates and government policies, are one of the main causes of our social problems today. That aside, it's interesting how different systems in different countries are all showing the same trends.

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  11. My goodness when you read it like that it really is amazing how much more we are paying. As you say the services seem to have declined so much over the years too. It is rather worrying where it will all end up in the coming years.

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    1. It was a train of thought that started when we looked at our newest bills and said f-h- that means we're paying two and a half thousand quid for "rates" and water. So I looked back to see what it used to be. It's hard to compare because I think in 1993 a lot of the schools budget came out of the rates, which suggests we're getting even less for our money now. As mentioned in last comment, my suspicion is that it can all traced back to government policies stoking up property prices. This post is, in effect, a reasoned rant.

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  12. You keep saying that schools don't come out of rates. I know I live under a different system but I had no idea that primary schooling in England was now funded as "academies". Although I do see that 60% of secondary schools are so funded.

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    1. This is the smoke and mirrors stuff and I don't really understand it. I believe that the government give the money to local authorities but leave very little discretion in how they how to spend it. So in other words, it's like direct funding. The graphic (linked in last paragraph) is from the Local Government Association and explicitly excludes schools from the figures. More and more primary schools are now becoming academies too, despite vigorous campaigning against it by parents' groups. Sometimes, school governors who refuse to comply are removed. Some heads of academy chains are now being paid very high salaries. I'm glad our kids have now left school.

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    2. Actually, it would be helpful to be able to find a clear statement of how these finances work. It seems to be buried in labyrinthine reports. All I know is that we seem to be paying a lot more than we used to for a lot less.

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  13. I'm no expert on UK council taxes, having just arrived here ten years ago, but isn't "austerity" a huge part of why the council taxes have increased and services declined? My understanding is that the national government used to fund many of these programs but that money has now dried up, forcing local government to boost taxes and cut services to cover the gaps.

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    1. I think deliberate austerity is another part of the equation. Funny how much money there suddenly was when there were opportunities to blow it on apps that didn't work and PPE not fit for purpose.

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  14. Dear Tasker, same here in Germany. I stopped getting angry about it (though sometimes I can't stop) - I watch "Yes, Minister" and sometimes laugh - but sometimes -especially if you see them throwing zillions at the moment out of the window - I can't laugh that away...

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    1. Yes, it isn't only local government finances that are labyrinthine, national and international finances are the same. My naive understanding is that at the end of the day, there's as much money as work gets done, but those who do least work get most money.

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