And so you may be waking up on Wednesday to read how there has been a ‘U-turn’ on the Council Tax increase in Colchester. The planned 1.95% precept rise has now disappeared after Council Leader Cllr Anne Turrell and LibDem Group Leader Cllr Paul Smith both appeared at the Finance and Scrutiny Panel on Tuesday evening.
All’s fair in local government finance?
The background over the past two days gives us a clue.
The 1.95% rise was planned by the LibDem group. Anything over 2% would have that nice Eric Pickles asking all sorts of questions, and possibly even leading to a Borough wide referendum.
Think of the cost, Comrades…
As Leader of the LibDem group, Cllr Smith first emailed the members with the suggestion of a freeze at the start of January.
With the group not being involved in setting the 1.95% rise, it wasn’t surprising to see that many questions were asked at the internal group meeting that took place on Monday evening.
A vote took place on the matter – even LibDem members of the Cabinet were apparently split on the planned rise. The feeling was that an increase would be an increase simply for the sake of it.
Meanwhile, over in the red corner and the Labour and Indie group were punching above their weight and keen to deliver the knockout blow of the original rise.
The U-turn [GEDDIN] by the Love Me I’m a Liberal lot caught the Comrades off guard. The Colchester Labour Party may have limited powers, but the group has threatened to abstain from the Council Tax vote at both Cabinet level on Wednesday evening, and at Full Council level later next month.
The maths involved means that it will still go through, but at quite a high cost to both the internal harmony within the LibDem group, and the possible split in the Cabinet coalition.
As for the real sums when it comes to the crux of the Council Tax matter?
It’s all about re-jigging finances really.
£189,000 was hoped to be raised by the 1.95% rise. This will now be made up of £109,000 from a central government grant – a ‘reward’ for not increasing the Council Tax – plus a £65,000 saving as part of a sharing deal with the Fire Service and Essex County Council. CBC reserves of £15,000 will cover the remainder.
Which all adds weight to the increase for the sake of an increase argument, as put forward by the dissenting LibDems.
The game being played – and it truly is a playerz game out there – is a one of appearing to look transparent to the residents, yet behind the scenes the agenda is one of a LibDem group that is looking a little shaky, and a LibLab alliance that is not so united as the Cabinet likes to project each month.
Which in the geeky world of hyperlocal politics is no bad thing. Having a LibDem group that is open and prepared to question the judgement of the Leader of the group is good for internal democracy.
Ditto the Cabinet – this very form of local governance is intended to create debate to help find the best solutions for Sunny Colch.
When it comes to Council Tax however you have to be careful as to what the ultimate prize is for winning the party political game. A victory for the different schisms in the party / Cabinet? Or pissing off the residents that just want to see a fair outcome when it comes to setting the Council Tax?
Don’t rule out future Leadership challenges coming up over the coming months, Comrades.