Want to see your local services cut to the bone? No? Then consider what a progressive council tax could do.
The Coalition Government’s punishing regime of cuts to local councils is threatening not only the services we depend on but the very idea of local democracy itself. In many cases council’s are seeing their budgets slashed by more than a third – three times the level of cuts to central government budgets.
People are often surprised at the number and diversity of services their local council provides. Councils look after our vulnerable children and adults, collect our rubbish,ensure our roads are safe, maintain public parks, ensure we have children’s centres,sports centres and libraries. They provide affordable housing, support and monitor our schools, create plans to protect us from unseen disasters… the list goes on and on. They are the sorts of services we normally take for granted, but are acutely aware of when they are gone.
Council tax, a way of collecting local revenue, is hardly the fairest system. Linked to outdated property valuations with no link to people’s ability to pay, it is fixed by Government and very hard to change. Added to that, the Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition have also done away with council tax benefit – an exemption for the poorest who now face increasing hardship.
But, Progressive Council Tax (PCT), an idea emanating from Brighton and Hove, could provide a viable alternative. PCT is a means of redistributing wealth while increasing the overall income council’s get each year by tens of millions of pounds.
So, how could this work? First the Government has stipulated a local referendum needs to be held and won in order to raise Council Tax by more than 2%. With PCT, the rate would be much higher than this but nearly all households would get a graduated discount. The less you earn, the higher the discount and vice versa. The majority of us would pay less council tax than we do now. Those households with the highest total incomes would pay more but only progressively so. The very richest would pay significantly more. Vulnerable groups would get special help to ensure they pay only the correct amount.
If voters can be convinced that this a fairer way to fund local services, and most have the incentive of both protecting them AND paying less, then there is nothing to stop a local council introducing this approach.
Those who can afford it are asked to dig a little deeper to protect local services,because there are many people who depend on them that simply can’t.