Labour Councillors across the country have launched a major campaign to protect working people from more Conservative Council Tax rises at next week’s Budget. Leader of the Labour opposition on Sedgemoor District council Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater, Westover) says “The background to this is the removal of rate support grants by the Tories which has led to a combined funding gap of £3bn for the financial year 2022/23. Councils in England face extra cost pressures of almost £8 billion by 2024/25 just to keep vital local services running at today’s levels. But this apparently is what the Tories mean by ‘Levelling Up’. In reality, having a Tory Government and a Tory council means ‘Holding Back’ and it’s a policy that has already left families hundreds of pounds worse off thanks to an Autumn triple whammy – the hike in National Insurance, higher energy prices and a £1,000 cut to Universal credit.”
Launching the campaign, which will see Labour Councillors from across the country deliver a petition to Downing Street next week, Councillor Leigh Redman, (Bridgwater South) Leader of the Labour Group on Somerset County Council said: “Enough is enough. Here in Somerset household budgets are being squeezed to bursting by sky-high energy bills, the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit, and the new Tory tax hike on National Insurance. People can’t take any more. Thanks to the Conservative government, council tax bills have increased more than £220 since 2019, the year that Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. Yet incredibly the Tories want to hammer working families again – at the worst possible time. The Prime Minister and Chancellor must Stop The Squeeze on families in Somerset by funding local services properly and ruling out further unfair council tax rises in this year’s Budget.’
The Reasons Behind Unitary
In Somerset, there is a major push to abolish district councils and replace them with a single County Unitary Council. ‘Savings’ is given as a reason for this and the Government’s decision to proceed has already overlooked the mass opposition to the project which people are sceptical will in fact cause cutbacks and job losses.
Deputy Leader of Labour controlled Bridgwater Town Council , Cllr Kathy Pearce (Bridgwater, Westover) said “Somerset’s funding gap is £12,400,000. It is, of course, what is driving the Unitary bid and the aim to make the £18m savings. Part of this is transferring services (and costs) to towns and parishes. Without proper funding being transferred as well it’s simply an agenda for cuts and passing the blame for those cuts down the line.”
The Unison Research
Research undertaken by the Local Government Trade Union UNISON finds a series of knock on consequences of Tory Government policy particularly in the key area of housing. The findings include the following:-
- The decline in funding for council housing is matched by a decline in the numbers of new homes being built.
- Workers in some areas of the UK would need to earn over 12 times their salary to afford a home in which to live. Public sector pay cannot match the cost of housing in many areas of the UK, particularly in London and the South East.
- The planning system, coupled with the expansion of permitted development rights in England, leaves a vacuum in effective regulation. Councils in many areas are left unable to secure enough affordable homes for local people to buy or rent.
- The developer-led market is failing generations of workers unable to access a decent home and exacerbating the housing crisis.
- Without a central role for local councils in the direct provision of new homes, the housing crisis will continue to grow with a worsening effect, particularly on the most economically exposed citizens.
- There is an opportunity for local councils in the post-pandemic economy to lead a green revolution in new build council homes, helping to provide new direct employment opportunities in construction, management, maintenance and placemaking in housing and neighbourhood level services.
- Small scale ‘sticking plaster’ interventions in addressing housing affordability or novel schemes to discount key worker housing have failed to bring about the new homes needed or to address the crisis in affordability.
- Only significant direct financial investment in building new homes through councils and other non-profit providers will enable housing needs to be met and allow workers to access affordable homes