England & Wales

Cuts, council tax and local democracy

The big beasts of the centre-right stir into life before the budget. Policy Exchange argues that George Osborne should cut the £50 billion middle-class welfare bill. Reform agrees and goes further. It argues for a radical streamlining of public services and, interestingly, funding a greater proportion of local government services from council tax. They argue that this would give local taxpayers a greater incentive to hold councils to account. I think that they’re right. The current mix of local taxation and central government subsidy leaves voters confused about what their council tax pays for. There is no sense that paying council tax funds care for the elderly, services for vulnerable children and safe and clean streets. In fact you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only thing that council tax pays for is equalities officers and other “politically correct non-jobs” as they’re inevitably referred to. Eric Pickles has said he’s committed to “localism, localism, localism”. Reform’s report is a reminder that, if he’s serious, his review of local government finance must be radical and wide-ranging.