LOCAL GOVERNMENT FUNDING & SPENDING

Local Government comes out low in the spending priority scale.  After setting the minimum standards, Central Government which at the present largely funds local government, Central Government should, I believe, progressively withdraw from the funding of Education and Social Care.  Health may follow, but since it is a much larger budget, the process of local funding should be bedded in first.  Central Government should start by transferring all operational decisions to local Councils and their officials.

Oversight would continue as at present via Ofsted and the CCC, with strengthened regulatory powers if necessary and powers to intervene directly if that be necessary.  More decisions taken locally should enliven local politics.  The population would be silly if not to become more involved as the progressive increase in local taxes will ensure their voices are both stimulated and needed.  They will be compensated by reduced income tax and perhaps VAT.  A formula for the transfer of funding source must be laid down.  They can save money immediately by not being obliged to offer translation into a myriad of languages, unless their population demands it and pays for it.  I regret that Welsh public offices require a degree of proficiency in the Welsh language this discriminates against most British citizens.  We are heading in a similar direction in Northern Ireland.

Land is the fundamental resource of a Council and the area of land that an individual or corporate entity controls is an economic factor.  Tax on that area could be set and this would accelerate unproductive land back into better economic use.  A Zoning principle could be enforced by a multiplier effect on say a derelict building in the middle of a residential area.

A small sales tax could be introduced, but in a country of short distances between local boundaries, it is difficult to see how this could be done without distortion to the local economy.

LOCAL TAXATION

This section is not included in Section 7 of this Manifesto, for whilst it is taxation it is intended to reduce Central Government’s spending.

It is now evident that I favour the principle more of what is spent locally should be raised locally.  It has the advantage of stimulating the interest in local governance.  Demands for more or different services can be put directly by voters to local authorities and agreed or otherwise by the local Council.

The transfer has to be progressive over a number of years.  Initially it could be restricted to the enhancement of services in the local services of Social Care, Education and Health probably in that order.  So Central Government pays the the cost of the nationally agreed standards of service in each of these areas, with a formula to take account of the variation in the make-up of local areas..  Then locally additional “top up” services are proposed, discussed and funded.  The percentage reduction of central government’s funding of the agreed national standard would be laid down in the formula I note above.  It is in line with a form of federalisation presaged and the creation of local Mayors.

The problem is that Local taxation needs to be on a different basis to national taxation.  Local taxation cannot be seen as another income tax less fair than the taxes raised by the state.  So what would be fair?  We all remember the Poll Tax.  The name has a political stigma as has also been attached to the Bedroom Tax and most recently to the Dementia Tax.  Yet all were based on reasonable premise.  The Poll Tax being that if there were 8 on one family and 2 in another, the 8 should pay more for local services.  The Bedroom Tax that the social housing occupied by a family was too large, say the family had grown up and moved out, then tax should be levied to encourage the tenants to move.  The only merit of Dementia Tax is that it is recognised that Social Care needed a new approach.  I will argue in the Government Taxation Policy Section on the merits of taxation and poll taxes and poll benefits. 

But here I am discussing local taxation and its impact on our nation’s democracy and also on the Governments role and its total spending.

If some fair and acceptable means of raising money locally were in place, then Central Government could divest itself of large areas of funding responsibility and leave it where it should be in response to local demand and political will.  It is the acceptable nature of the taxation that is at issue, but I am after all I am a dictator.

My economics course taught me that there are 3 basic resources, Money, Labour and Land.  Only Land is applicable in this context.  Indeed the current local tax, the Council Tax is based, loosely, on land.  I mentioned this is Section 5.3 and I now expand:-

I attended courses on the fundamentals of economics and do recall that the basic asset of a local government is the land in its area.  The area of land that you control the use of, as an individual or family group should be proportionate to the tax rate applied.  It would free up under-used land.  The tax would have to be phased in say with no more than an 8% increase per annum, to protect the old for whom the thought of moving and leaving their memories is unbearable.  Progressively a multiplier could be applied to zone land use more effectively in the local interest.

This is the basis of my belief.  The case for its fairness can be argued.  It will however be more complex and the principles will need to be largely determined by Central Government, with only limited scope for local variation.  If a house stands on a large area of land it will pay more than one built on a smaller area.  But this payment will be made on an accurate survey of the area of land involved.  This will encourage the sale of underused land or a resident leaving a property with too much land for their needs or income.  One can see that flats would pay less as multiple owners share in the control of the land on which their building stands on.  Here a factor could be introduced decreasing with the distance from the centre of the locality and its main services.  But that is not nearly as important as the ability to drive out land usage which is not in line with the needs of the locality.  Say a scrap yard in the middle of a residential area.  Cases of which have figured recently in the news.  Letting the house of garden fall into disrepair would also increase the multiplier factor on a temporary basis until the property was put back into good order.

Progressively applied with detailed safeguards, this could be the way of fairly raising local funds for local needs and re-invigorate local government even to the extent that the election turnout exceeds that of General Elections.

SOCIAL CARE

Social Care in relation to age, appears to have started the process of transfer to more local funding.  My latest Council Tax only rose because of the increased Adult Care Levy.  As will be clear I believe that Social Care should regulated nationally from the centre.  But it should be funded locally and be responsible locally.  If it is not up to the needs tell the Council and they need to respond and I approve of increasing local taxation to meet the greater demand.  Issuing Bonds to tide them over if needs be.  There are natural checks and balances in both of these statements.

By Social Care I also mean care in the home, which also needs funding especially if the carer has to give up work.

There are several transitions here-: 

  • The reduction of national funding
  • The move to raising more local taxes
  • Enhancing the social care provision
  • The stimulation of local democracy
  • The reduction is national taxation

These will need monitoring, which the Benevolent Dictator will do fairly.

There will be disparities in the number of people needing care as a proportion of the local population.  Eastbourne and Bournemouth are well known for a high proportion of retired souls.  Many of these people may be asset rich, so changes will take place and these cannot be painless.  As I state in Section 7 there is no absolute right in the UK for the children to inherit all of their parent’s estate.  So the paramount thing is that great care is given and if the recipient has money, it will be get used.  The rate of withdrawal of State funds can be kept between 3% & 5% depending on the age profile of the receiving authority.

There are also areas of many poor people especially in the North.  But it need not be that way, I am a Tynesider and many parts of that great area are doing very well even after the loss of their traditional industries.  I believe that restoring the pride in and effectiveness of local government will improve things over time.  But until then what is called the Universal Credit is administratively the simplest and the best course.  Its roll-out typifies the Government’s (of all persuasions) poor performance in developing IT systems, but it is one source of administration and assessment.  It must take special care of children, particularly where there is a high number in one family, often with no father or fathers around.  But ways to ensure that the children benefit not the adults as a means of livelihood must be found.

HOUSING

This was covered in Section 6.4.3.  We need housing - lots and lots of it.  There can be no ambiguity here.  Planning restrictions should be kept to a minimum.  And Local Authorities should be free to borrow money to build to house the citizens in their area and attract people into their area if they so wish.  This is building to a more dynamic situation, with land being freed up by enhanced local taxes on under or inappropriately used land.  More people being brought in needing to work or even to provide care services.

LOCAL FUNDING OF HEALTH

The transition of health to more local funding will take the longest and should not be started until Social Care and Housing with a local focus and funding are well established.  But it needs to be considered as decisions on the future of local general hospitals, should be taken as locally as possible.  The overall national strategy should be set for specialised care with local issues in mind.  In due course if keeping a local hospital open is fought for, that fight should be backed up by local funding.  The limit being what local funding, local people are prepared to pay.  They could be prepared to keep a local facility open and pay a supplement to doctors or nurses to work in their area.  All this will enhance the reputation of the area and make it easier to attract people and investment to it, in the future.  Part of the citizens changing their towns for the good.

BENEFITS

Pension and Unemployment benefits should remain unchanged.  Although I have sympathy with the need to restrict universal benefits regardless of need, such as the Winter Fuel Allowance.  However I suspect the cost of assessing the need will outweigh the savings involved, unless it was totally stopped, which would raise a storm – not that real dictators worry about that!  Unemployment benefit should be supplemented by free travel to job interviews or training.

Disability benefits need to be provided as generously as the country’s finances allow.  Each case should be assessed to comprehensive rules and time related.  These should be:

  • ·         Applicant must be British
  • ·         Genuinely cannot work
  • ·         If not unable to work, is he/she genuinely seeking work with assistance, including financial, to seek work
  • ·         Then what is their need
  • ·        

If the recipient is never going to recover do not bring them back for re-assessment every year, although the continued existence of the condition needs checking occasionally and probably randomly.  If however all might change in 6 months then that is the limit set, and the recipient will need to reapply.

Then there is the political hot potato of a Benefits Cap.  There has to be one.  First because a benefits recipient must not receive more than some one in work.  Second because the funds of the State are not unlimited, so a cap must be set in line with the suggested new BASIC Cost of Living Index.  See section 7.4 (More Babies) and section 8.

SPORT, CULTURE & THE ARTS

I will be regarded as an arch Philistine for these propositions, but I do not think Government money should be spent on Sport, Art and Culture.  Nor the keeping alive of little used languages in the regions of our country.  English is a world language and that is all our citizens need to master.  It is helpful to learn Spanish, and even Chinese, Russian, & Arabic if they want to enhance their understanding of the world around us and in a few cases perhaps their careers.

Funding of the Arts by Local Authorities is fine if their electorate supports the taxation that will be required in the future.

Support from the National Lottery if it continues to be well controlled is great.

The caveat on all this is the in schools up to 18 years Sport, Art and Music must feature to enable the children to be informed enough to make satisfying choices in life.  After that they join the adult world and if they want ballet, art or sculpture, they pay for that enjoyment, although much of the latter is free in museums.

I would also cut the BBC down to size.  Major events, tragic or otherwise shows just how many reporters/presenters they have.  The national ones elbow the loyal local ones out of the way, with several teams turning up, one from each channel.  I would pull the BBC out of all local UK radio and leave that service to the local commercial stations.  They BBC would still have the popular national channels and thus the listeners choice.