Cowardice in Lichfield
Everyone is flailing their arms around this week at the news we might have to pay for a fortnightly brown bin collection from next year. Clearly, this is not high on the list of priorities of things to get angry about. It does, however, demonstrate a problem with the current crop of politicians we have representing us in Lichfield District.
They are cowards.
There are two reasons: they lack the courage to actually give people the choice over council expenditure, and they won’t stand up to the Government’s ideological austerity that forces cuts upon local councils.
The report (you can get it here) that the council will be considering at it’s meeting on Wednesday (8th March) is an interesting read, and highlights the cowardice of our councillors. It also raises some questions.
With the cap on increases to Council Tax, without the need to hold a referendum, the ability to increase income is limited.
This is the clearest sign, nice and early on. Be careful on the wording here — the Government talks of it as a “cap” and anything above a particular level being “excessive” — all wording designed to make increasing tax sound bad. Taxes are not inherently a bad thing.
What this shows is that Lichfield’s councillors are too scared to give the public a say over what services get funded, and how much that will cost. What those councillors could do is come up with a well-thought out plan for funding services people care about, be honest with the people about how much that costs, and ask the people if they want to bump up the council tax to pay for it and retain those services.
That they refuse to, and instead increase council tax just enough to avoid a referendum shows a complete disrespect for the people who may just want to feel like they have some say over local services.
The current garden waste service is offered to 31,500 properties in Tamworth and 43,000 properties in Lichfield.
The cost of providing the garden waste collection service will be approximately £1 million in 2016/17.
This is where it gets a bit confusing, and I’m going to scrutinise these numbers.
It’s not clear if the £1m cost described here is to cover both Lichfield and Tamworth. Let’s account for that and try to work out the cost per property. The projected cost of the garden waste service, per property, is;
- £1.12 per month across all properties or
- £1.94 per month in Lichfield only.
What LDC are saying here then is that they won’t increase council tax by (potentially) as little as £1.12 per month to pay for this service. Instead, they want to charge responsible households £36/year for the service.
Using an anticipated participation rate of 45%
Here, the council estimates that around 45% of properties will use a charged-for brown bin collection. It’s not clear if this is just Lichfield (45% of 43,000 properties) or Lichfield and Tamworth (43% of 74,500). If it’s just Lichfield, that will generate £696,600 revenue for the council.
- 45% of 43,000 properties is 19,350
- 19,350 properties paying £36 per year
- £696,600 revenue
How does that compare to the current cost? At the moment, the cost of those 19,350 properties is £450,000 (45% of £1m).
If the figures in the report are correct, that means that this proposal will mean the brown bin service generate the council a tidy profit of £246,600 each year.
That probably is wrong though. The report itself admits;
The introduction of a chargeable garden waste could raise an additional £333,379 per annum for the authority.
So is this a deliberate revenue earner?
Thankfully, the report also details cost implications, but these figures seem strange. Answering our earlier question, the report lists the “£36 charge per bin per annum (45% uptake - total property count 75,000 properties)” as £1,215,000).
I wonder what calculator gave them 1,215,000 from 36 x 75,000…
What all this shows, I think, is that rather than be brave enough to be honest with the public about the cost for services like the brown bin collection, and treat the people as adults, the council and it’s councillors are hiding behind the “cap”. They are instead choosing to force 45% of residents who want the brown bin collection to pay an excessive (remember my note earlier about wording?) amount for the same service. Right now, the blue and brown bins are being collected from my street as I type. The civil service being provided outside my house is being turned into a profitable product.
Lichfield’s councillors are also demonstrating cowardice for the second reason — a failure to stand up against austerity.
The reason given for the need to charge for the brown bin service is because local governments have had their funding from central government slashed and by 2019 will have to be completely self funded. This is true, but the reason is because the central government in Westminster is driven by an ideological austerity agenda. A deliberate choice, not a necessity, to starve public services of funding.
It’s a Conservative government that has been driving this since 2010 and we’ve had a Conservative-controlled council in Lichfield for that entire period. Lichfield’s Conservative councillors should be standing up to their fellow party members in Westminster and demanding that services be properly funded.
They could start by challenging why the government is handing out tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. But they won’t, because they’re cowards.
We need to replace these cowards with a new breed of politicians that is brave enough to see that the state is there to tax those who can afford it and provide public services to all, not give to the rich and take from the poor.