Thursday 23 January 2014

Brent Labour debating Referendum on raising Council Tax

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt last night told the audience at Willesden Connects that a vigorous debate was going on in the Labour group about the possibility of Brent Council staging a referendum on raising Council Tax.

This follows the decision of the Green Brighton and Hove Council to seek such a referendum in order to raise Council Tax to protect Adult Social Services. When I tweeted this story Cllr James Denselow, Brent Executive member tweeted back that he was 'very interested to see how this goes'.

Unfortunately the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove have opposed the Referendum LINK and are to move a vote of no confidence in the minority Green administration.

Brent Labour's discussion reflects the large cuts expected in 2015-16 and London Councils' warning LINK that 'without significant changes to the way cuts are applied many boroughs will quickly reach an unsustainable position, and that will affect local services'.

Brent finance officers have warned for some time that continuing the Council Tax freeze risks seriously undermining the council's revenue base.

Muhammed Butt himself said at Willesden Connects that a rise in Council Tax would affect the poorest people who are now expected to pay 20% of the tax. This ironically was the basis of the demonstration at Full Council on Monday when the protesters wanted that group protected - something that has happened in other boroughs and where Brent's poorest pay the second highest rate in London.

Interestingly in Brighton the GMB union has welcomed the Green move. Mark Turner the city;s GMB organiser said:
This new budget would protect frontline services in adult social care. Cuts would have absolutely terrible consequences on people’s lives. It is only right that the public have a chance to vote on this proposal.
In the Local Government Chronicle, LINK after doubting whether the referendum move would get past the combined Labour and Conservative vote(32 against the Green's 21)  Emma Maier nevertheless wrote:
A referendum in Brighton would truly be democracy in action. Whatever the outcome, this is a historic case. The local and national news stories will go some way to disabusing people of the common perception that council services are funded entirely from council tax, and will ensure that more people are aware of cuts to central funding.

If a referendum were to be held a 'no' vote would probably finish off Britain's first Green administration. But it could also open up a conversation about publicly sanctioned services cuts – and a debate about the role of local government in future.

A 'yes' vote, meanwhile, could change the whole dynamic between central and local government, and between voters and the council. The implication would ripple much further than Brighton's beaches.

The latter scenario is unlikely. But if it can happen anywhere, it would be Brighton.
In a letter to the Guardian today Baroness Ruth Lister of the Labour Party, Chair of Compass Neil Lawson and John Hilary write:
The decision of Brighton council to hold a referendum on whether to increase council tax to pay for essential services is a bold commitment to democracy and equality. Everyone is feeling squeezed as a result of the Tories' draconian cuts to local government and public services, but a political contest over which party will manage austerity more effectively won't change the terms of debate. Money raised collectively, spent collectively and targeted where there is the most need is as essential in Brighton as it is across the UK.
Of course the referendum is not the answer in the long-term, and still makes the poor pay for the crisis, but  it does open up a debate about the adequate financing of local government service.  We have to focus on the disastrous impact of funding cuts on the vulnerable, and the possible deaths that may result.  That is why some are referring to the Brighton referendum as the Social Care referendum, rather than the Council Tax Referendum - this puts the emphasis on the provision of vital services rather than taxes.

This weekend Young Greens are descending on Brighton in large numbers to campaign for the referendum. See thir article on Left Foot Forward HERE 

Here is another view from columnist Simon Jenkins LINK


Anonymous said...

Muhammed Butt is a buffoon of the highest order. On Monday he decides to charge poorest residents 20% council tax then on Wednesday he says he's not sure if Council Tax should be raised because it will impact poorer residents! Is he completely incapable of logical thought to realise that the sensible thing to do would be to increase council tax while also increasing the number of exemptions, thus ensuring the richer pay more and the poorer are protected?

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see that there is debate about this issue, which there needs to be if a sensible way forward on paying for and providing key services is to be found, with as broadly based a consensus behind it as possible. It is a pity Cllr Butt feels that the only debate on this which matters is the one inside Brent's Labour Group!
All Brent residents, even the poorest, have to pay Council Tax, and need the chance to have their say if they wish to. An online "budget simulator" is no substitute for the Council engaging with, and listening to, people from across the local community.
Philip Grant.