Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Savings Without Cuts? Labour Keeps its Promise on Council Tax

Reducing the Council Tax in the London Borough of Hounslow was one of the five pledges the Labour Party made in its successful local election campaign in 2010.

After the way in which voters were conned by the "trick" pledge to introduce "100 new uniformed officers" onto the streets in "this area" (undefined) to cut crime, we could be forgiven for thinking a similar sleight of hand would be forthcoming in respect of the Council Tax pledge.

But, fair play to them, the Labour administration in Hounslow announced last week that it would be reducing the charge to residents by 0.5% - not a fortune, but it trumps the previous achievements of both their own party and of the Conservative/ICG coalition administration.

All the same one has to be careful about taking at face value the claim that this achievement will have been made without any cuts to frontline services. There is no rigid dictionary definition of a "frontline service", and it remains to be seen which service(s) not considered to be frontline will face the chop to accommodate this small saving to residents.

When the ICG was in office some of us were forever nervous about announcing Council Tax cuts or freezes before the books had been opened and the maths done. We were rightly fearful that once a commitment had been made to a figure it would be necessary for the sake of saving face to hit that target come what may. This, we believed, was putting the card before the horse.

But we supported the first three Conservative zero percent budgets of the 2006-2010 administration, some of us voting against the fourth only because our partners had somehow forgotten to consult us about its contents prior to it being brought to Borough Council. There were cuts, inevitably, but ones that were less severe in fact than many that had been imposed by Labour during its own prior term of office.

Not a lot of people know this, as Michael Caine might have said, but at one stage during the 2006-2010 administration there was a proposal by one prominent Conservative councillor to go for a reduction. After some discussion the ICG, and some Conservatives, rejected it. Interesting times.

It is good, of course, that people in the borough will henceforth be paying less Council Tax, but something will have to give as it invariably does. The administration claims it will not be libraires. Other community resources, worryingly, have not so far received a mention.

The ICG is determined that the infrastructure of our long-suffering communities will not be the sacrifice for a fiver-a-year, Tory-style gesture by the Labour regime at Lampton Road.

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