Social democracy 101Posted: February 11, 2014
At the Brighton & Hove Independent Big Debate last night, I made a clumsy attempt to express my frustration at the attitude of local Labour politicians towards the proposal to increase council tax by 4.75%. Here’s what I was trying to say:
I live in a small (Band C) terraced house in Brighton. We pay £110 a month in Council tax.
Our council tax contributes to paying the wages of people who:
- Collect refuse and recycling
- Clean the city’s streets and beaches
- Maintain our parks
- Make sure building work is done safely
- Design road schemes to improve traffic flow and safety
- Handle planning applications
- Monitor food safety and trading standards
- Look after and create the excellent local museums
- Run a network of libraries
- Conserve the Royal Pavilion
- Organise the school admissions process
- Find people homes when they are in dire straits
- Publish information about what the council does, and ask us what we think of it
- Organise elections
- Allocate grant funding to community and voluntary organisations
- Run care services for elderly and disabled people
- Support children and families in difficulty
- Look after children when their parents can’t
- Promote the city as a worldwide tourist destination
- Arrange free bus transport for pensioners
- Manage parking schemes
- Commission essential bus routes that need subsidy
- Process housing benefit and council tax reduction claims
And no doubt many other things I haven’t thought of.
I’d say that I’m getting excellent value for my £110 a month.
But paying taxes is more than just a way of purchasing these services. In return for my taxes, I get a miraculous whole that is worth more than the considerable sum of all these different parts – I get to live in a city that works.
Whether or not I ever use the services my taxes help to pay for, I benefit from the fact that they exist, that there is a safety net for everyone who lives here – whoever they are – and that thought and care is being put into keeping everything functioning.
And because I am a citizen of this place, I get to have a say in how it works. None of the services I’ve listed is perfect – nor is our system of democracy. Trying to have a say is often frustrating.
But when was the last time your local supermarket consulted you on anything? How can insurance companies be held accountable for their decisions? How much of the money local residents spend each year ends up in the pockets of shareholders outside the city or even the country? (and how many of them go to great lengths to avoid paying tax at all?)
Local public services are under a ferocious attack. The difficulty of balancing Brighton & Hove Council’s budget is not down to poor choices by the Green administration. It’s caused by deep cuts in government funding, services already operating at full stretch, and increasing needs due to an ageing population and worsening inequality.
Frankly, increasing council tax by 4.75% is the least the council could do in the face of this onslaught. It wouldn’t reverse all the cuts included in the proposed budget. It’s not a revolutionary blow for the masses against the relentless pressure of the coalition’s austerity project. It’s also really not an outrageous raid on the hard-pressed wallets of Warren Morgan’s constituents in Whitehawk.
Surely any Labour Party member worth their salt can see that the interests of Whitehawk residents are not well served by presiding over the destruction of the social services on which many of them rely (all the while claiming credit for the ability to “make tough choices”)?
It’s a very mild stand in defence of basic social-democratic ideas. It’s a chance to make the case for the ragged remnants of our public services.
Why is the Labour Party leaving that task to the Greens?