Is Local government after more of your money?

Faced with the need to rein in expenditure, Councils are going to be tempted instead to drive for more income. Thwarted by some government control over Council Tax levels, and disappointed by the grant settlements from the centre, we should be ready for further increases in the level and range of fees and charges they impose.

I have no objection to the principle that the user should pay. Imposing a charge for something I want which the Council supplies is fine. What I object to is having to pay rip off monopoly prices for things they make me have but do not want, or high monopoly prices for things I would rather buy from some one else if they would let me. Paying for something I have already paid for through my taxes, like parking space on local roads, can also be vexatious.

I thought I would have a look to see just how wide ranging Council’s powers to charge already are. I typed in charges to the Reading Borough Council website. I was told there were 686 web pages that might be relevant! Typing in fees brought me the offer of 291 web pages. I read a sample.

This reminded me that Councils charge for parking, for planning permissions and building permits, for developer agreements, engineering fees, crematoria charges, childrens services charges, street care charges, gambling fees, land charges, non residential community care charges, street collection permits, street trading, pavement cafe trading, house to house collections, scrap metal dealers, caravan sites, taxi licencing, gambling and drink licencing and many more.

Each of those areas of charging in turn spawns many charging opportunities. Just checking out how many times they can charge under their Licencing Act powers produced another long list, including new premises, conversion of premises, personal licences, changes of addresses for people and property involved, applications to transfer licences, change of name, change of club rules, temporary event notices and notices of interest in premises.

Increasing the range of items Councils charge for is just a tax increase by another name. Increasing the level of the fee is inflationary provocation at a time of recession and pinched budgets for everyone else. The public must be vigilant. We must tell our Councillors clearly that we do not want them to find more ways of taking money off us, but to find some ways of delivering more for less. There is often plenty of scope to do just that.

In Reading’s case there is plenty of spending on senior officers and consultants to generate the fashionable partnerships and strategies. I use it to illustrate a general issue, not to pick on one local Council. They just happen to have a very long list of partnerships and initiatives, which leads to the question does any Council need so much overhead to achieve worthy aims? There is the 14-19 Partnership, the Crime Disorder and Reduction Partnership, the Local Safeguarding Children Partnership, the Local Strategic Partnership, the Healthier Reading Partnership, the Trust Board (Children), the Childrens Action Teams, the Children and Young Peoples Strategic Partnership, the Independent Transport Commission, Local Area Agreement, the Sustainable Community Strategy and the Community Safety Strategy to name but a few. All of these Partnerships and Strategies must require senior officers time and generate plenty of paper, meetings and minutes. Is it really the best way to ensure good childrens services or better policing?


  1. Mick Anderson
    August 10, 2009

    You’re also forgetting how much money they want to take from us in penalties and fines. The more petty regulations that they can impose on us, and the more cameras and internet/telephone snooping they can use against us, the more penalties can be levied against us.

    Nothing exists in this modern world that Government (local or national) doesn’t want to use as a money-taking opportunity.

  2. alan jutson
    August 10, 2009

    “Is it really the best way to ensure good childrens servicing or better policing”

    The answer to the above must surely be a yes, otherwise why would they think they needed such organisations.

    Unfortunately we now live in a world where many would rather attend a meeting and talk about problems, than actually get their hands dirty, get in at the sharpe end, get out and solve a few.

    This syndrome is not just confined to Government Departments or Councils. Many Companies also have such an approach.

    Reason for decisions by Committee.
    Its more difficult to aportion blame should a policy go wrong. Just like employing outside Consultants to advise.
    Just like giving a contract to the largest Company.

    The real problem is that the Government and Local Authorities seem to want more control over everything.
    The local residents, and the Country’s citizens are not trusted any more to run their own lives.

    As you highlight, the problem now is that all of this control costs money, because by its very nature it is inefficient.

    The more money it bleeds from its residents and citizens, the less they have available to spend elsewhere.

    The sooner we get back to the people being in charge of their own finances, to purchase what services they want the better.

    Local Authorites should be providing basic services the like of which they used to do 50 years ago, and a massive reduction in cost should reflect that situation.

    Due to a whole range of charges, health and safety issues with risk assessments, method statements, environmental health issues, collection licences, street closure orders, notification to police, fire, ambulace services, drink licences, Public and third party liability insurance, and a whole host of other charges, many local fairs, fun day’s, carnivals are being cancelled, simply because they are not viable any more.

    Volunteers who run these events face hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours attempting to organise such, and in many cases have now given up in frustration.

    Our way of life in this Country is changing, many traditions are being lost, swamped by paperwork, regulation, cost and fear of the blame and compensation culture.

    It has to end !!!!!!

  3. gyges
    August 10, 2009

    Max Kieser and Phil Hammond interview.


    As a tory who promulgated denationalisation, why didn’t you denationalise the pound?

  4. David Eyles
    August 10, 2009

    You seem to have forgotten the ubiquitous Safety Camera Partnership. There’s one for every county council, unitary authority and the like……..or is Reading one of the few councils that has got rid of these iniquitous snoopers?

  5. backofanenvelope
    August 10, 2009

    Then there are the perks these people enjoy. I was chatting to a car park attendant one day and asked him about the windscreen badges some cars had – cars that seemed to always be there. They were district council employees who paid £5 a year to park as much as they liked – in a car park that charged 90p an hour!

  6. Neil Craig
    August 10, 2009

    The Kansas city boss Tom Pendergast allegedly had 3 rules – keep the streets clean, don’t touch the schools & never kill anybody west of 17th St. That is all people really require from local government. If councils are going to charge extra for cleansing then people are going to, correctly, ask who gets their rates money, let alone the rate support grant which is about 4 times larger. This will be even more explicit it the Conservatives bring in a schools voucher system meaning that councils don’t touch schools at all.

    1. alan jutson
      August 10, 2009


      Just received an “e” mail about the New Mayor of Doncaster.

      Mr Peter Davis (English Democrats)

      Elected just a few weeks ago, born and bought up in Doncaster stood on the ticket of lowering the cost of Local Government.
      Voted in with 24,244 votes.

      It is suggested he has already cut his own salary from £73,000 to £30,000. and will scrap the Council newspaper for peddling politics on the rates.

      Plans to reduce the number of Councillors from 63 to 21 saving £800,000, suggesting that if the USA can govern itself with 100 Senators, Doncaster can get by with 21.

      Suggests he has found his chauffer another job, and axed the limo.

      Will withdraw Doncaster from the Local Government Association and the Local Government information unit saving £200,000.

      Will untwin the Town with other Towns and Cities abroad, saving thousands on Councillors trips abroad.

      Plans to withdraw funds from a number of very PC Associations, saying Politicians have got completely out of touch with reality and with what people want.

      Plans to run through the Council accounts to see what else can be cut, saying, with all these people we were rated as a one star Council, we can and will do better with less people.

      This sounds like your kind of man JR !!!!!!!.

      Let us hope he succeeds, then perhaps others will follow.

      1. Mike Stallard
        August 10, 2009

        Who elected him? Was it the Council, or the Ratepayers?

        1. alan jutson
          August 10, 2009

          Council tax payers elected him.

          Details are on the web, Google Peter Davis, or Doncaster Council, or both.

          Let us hope he is successful it may be a pointer in the right direction.

  7. NigelC
    August 10, 2009

    Fees and charges raise nearly as much as the Council tax for my District Council, mainly parking – hidden taxes yes.

  8. Sir Graphus
    August 10, 2009

    Council tax is the money we pay so they can do everything they want to. It is their due as our betters.

    Anything WE want them to do is extra.

  9. Prentiz
    August 10, 2009

    It’s all well and good criticising the majority of partnerships – many people involved in local government would be extremely critical of them too! However, they are in the majority of cases required by Government. At least 2/3 of the partnerships you list are mandatory.

    It’s no good criticising local government for central government failings. A policy commitment from the party to scrap these partnerships would be very much welcomed- but I can’t recall one as yet.

    Perhaps a case of people in glass houses?

    Reply: I am all in favour of scrapping needless partnerships. I don’t think most of them are mandatory – they are recommended which is something different.

    1. Paul
      August 10, 2009

      This is true, but ‘recommended’ in Government speak means that if you don’t do it they will butcher you at the next inspection (in LA’s case this is the Audit Commission ?).

      OFSTED, for example, recommend things in the same way Stalin did.

      Of course, get rid of all these rubbishy quangos and it ceases to be a problem. Close OFSTED, for example, and all that will happen is schools improve and costs sink (no time on fake paperwork and PPA can be dumped).

      1. Mike Stallard
        August 11, 2009

        According the Chris Woodhead, who had to resign as chief Inspector under Estelle Morris, OFSTED is now in the hands of schools themselves. Together with the head, they work out a favourable report so that everything looks lovely. Chris Woodhead maintains that he was the last gasp of the “Stalinist” system. (No, he didn’t use the word.)

    2. Gaz
      August 10, 2009

      I think you fail to appreciate just how weak local government has become, it is at the mercy of the Audit Commission. It’s ok to say that many of the partnerships are ‘recommended’, but a Council that doesnt enter into the partnerships gets heavily criticised by the audit commission and gets its rating reduced.

      The audit commission is an instrument of evil, and councils will do whatever they think they need to to get the higher scores.

  10. [[NAME EDITED]]
    August 10, 2009

    One thing that puzzles me is the way councils take on more and more employees to do things that don’t need to be done, when they are desperately looking for more ways of getting our money. Surely they already have an incentive to cut back, so why aren’t they doing it?
    And don’t forget foreign trips: why should the “chief executive” of North Devon District Council need to visit Bosnia, together with his PA? Bring back Town Clerks.

  11. Adrian Peirson
    August 10, 2009

    Of course they want more of my money, but guess what, I don’t have to pay, none of us do, it’s all an illusion.

    1. StevenL
      August 10, 2009

      By far the biggest load of tripe you’ve ever posted Adrian, but since there was nothing on TV.

      1. Adrian Peirson
        August 14, 2009

        Is your Birth Certificate All Capitals, do all Bills come to you in ALL Capitals or as Mr Steven L

        Mr Steven L is an asset.

        PS did you know when you are born, you are deemed to be worth around £1Million, Govt creates a Bond on your future worth and Trades you on the Stock Echange, Currently you are worth around £15 Million.

        Part 1

        Part 2

        etc etc etc

        1. StevenL
          August 14, 2009

          £15 million? Let’s say I’ve got 40 years of my working life left, that’s £375k a year. How I wish my employer believed your nonsense!

        2. Adrian Peirson
          August 16, 2009

          Actually I don’t know if what is in these videos is correct, but with everyhing else going on, it wouldn’t surprise me.

  12. TimC
    August 10, 2009

    The dustbin service for my maison secondaire here in France costs 112 Euros. Weekly collection. This is on top of a low local tax. I am happy to pay for this service. Back home in Kent I get a fortnightly service and no identifiable slice of the humungeous Council tax bill. I can pay an additional £30 to have green waste picked up alternate weeks (a rare example of choice and one 1 reject!). What I would really like is the option to pay Joe Bloggs bins limited 100 quid and lose £150 off the rate bill.

  13. Kenneth Morton
    August 10, 2009

    The Audit Commission rates Reading Borough Council’s performance last year as three stars ( out of four ) and improving adequately.

    So where will the incentive come from for the Council to justify all these charges? The effort that must be made to administer the whole system is very likely to be disproportionate to the end result for the citizens who pay. So the end result is classic Parkinson Law economics.
    Mr. Redwood, your blogposts over the last couple of weeks
    should be adapted for publication to a wider audience. Your efforts and those of the Tax Payers Alliance and like minded organisations must drown out the onslaught that the Labour Party will prepare to support their call for ‘ongoing investment’ in public services.

    Good Luck! Thank you for all your efforts to open our eyes this summer to the way public money is being spent.

    Reply: I have sent them to the Shadow Chancellor and the Express has run an article on the banks by me. I plan some more.

    1. alan jutson
      August 10, 2009


      See my reply to Neil for info.

      1. Kenneth Morton
        August 10, 2009

        The election of an English Democrat as Mayor was regarded an aberration in the reports that I read and heard. It was on a par with Hartlepool’s H’angus the Monkey win in 2000.

        I was certainly unaware of the cuts that Peter Davis had instigated in one of the strongholds of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, where Miliband Jnr and Rosie Winterton are the MPs.

        It certainly offers hope that if maverick Mayors in Labour strongholds can show the way forward early and rapid progress is possible in cutting local expenditure. But to borrow from the imagery of Mao and his Little Red Book this is but the first stage of a very long journey.

  14. Brian Tomkinson
    August 10, 2009

    As most councils are now under Conservative control, I should have hoped that they would be cutting expenditure and obtaining real value for the taxpayers’ money not thinking of more ways to take more of our money. Or is it a forlorn hope which bears no relationship to reality?

    1. Paul
      August 10, 2009

      The problem with councils is sometimes not the councillors ; it is the permanent staff. They now have a big hammer over elected councillors (the SBE). There is no equivalent for civil servants (that works in any way).

      Permanent staff can almost literally get away with ( A great deal-ed). I was amazed that Shoesmith (Baby P) got sacked and still expect her to be quietly paid off.

      1. Deborah
        August 10, 2009

        Sorry, but the problem IS councillors who aren’t prepared to stand up to officers.
        Council leaders who are too comfortable and/or weak to do the right thing have a lot to answer for, and the Conservative party should be sorting them out.

        1. Paul
          August 11, 2009

          The problem is that a Council Officer can report someone to the SBE for things like ‘being rude’ – let alone anything resembling dishonesty and/or incompetence

          They can disqualify them from discussions on a whim as well – you aren’t supposed to have any ‘prior views’ – especially expressed in public.

          Applied to the HoC this would disqualify JR from speak on banking etc. – in reality almost *anything*.

          Needless to say, council officers are more keen to silence those who oppose them.

          Meanwhile, if a councillor, or indeed anyone else, wants to take action against a Council Officer, there is almost nothing they can do, and even less that has any effect on them (besides the usual “lessons will be learnt ….” b/s which they aren’t).

          This is part of the reason for things like Baby P. A system of zero accountability for anything means promotion is done by backscratching, gerrymandering, anything other than actual competence. So idiots are in charge.

        2. Deborah
          August 11, 2009


          I fully understand the points you are making and have seen many of these issues at first hand. There seems to be no mechanism for dealing with a renegade CEO and monitoring officer if they choose to ignore the law and behave in a politically partisan manner.
          I agree whole-heartedly that the Standards Board is counter-productive and should be abolished at the first available opportunity.

          However, that does not excuse those council leaders who simply choose the easy route of going along with whatever officers suggest.

      2. Brian Tomkinson
        August 11, 2009

        You may be right, but, if so, what is the point of elected councillors who are now in receipt of quite substantial incomes (or compensation in bankers’ speak!). Perhaps it is to compensate them for their impotence!

  15. Martin
    August 10, 2009

    Many of these council quangos are a waste of time and as others have suggested divert staff from front line duties.

    Did you know that Wokingham Council has a biodiversity action plan?
    Anyone seen any Lions around Shute End?

    1. alan jutson
      August 10, 2009


      Yes Wokingham Lions Club meets twice a month, as do Rotary, not sure about Round table.

    2. Stuart Fairney
      August 11, 2009

      Poster boys for biodiversity are pandas and dolphins but if you deal with these (I can’t use the word it will be moderated out) on a daily basis, you will discover that the EU protects an enormous range of things including types of mold in the name of holy biodiversity.

  16. DiscoveredJoys
    August 10, 2009

    There is another problem with local authority charges – even though the charges affect you, you can’t vote the elected members out if you live outside the local authority boundary.

    An example: My mother-in-law died last year. The NHS treated her well, the local hospice were outstanding, and the Co-op Funeral Service were brilliant. The local authority however wanted a substantial additional fee for the cemetary plot because we (who applied for it) lived a mile outside the city (unitary authority) boundary. This was despite the fact that my mother-in-law had lived in the city, been under the care of the city social services, and died in the city.

    We got around this rip-off charge by changing the application into my brother-in-laws name – he lives in the city. But why should we have had to? And what recourse do we have against people we cannot vote for or against?

    No taxation without representation?

  17. Mike Stallard
    August 10, 2009

    A school is a teacher teaching pupils who are willing to learn. A group of teachers and a group of pupils can also form a school. In the lessons, it is the teacher and the pupils. That is all that is needed.
    Add on a couple of good cleaners, a school secretary and put one of the teachers in charge, and bingo!
    Please tell me, therefore, why the central government/local government needs to be involved at all?
    I should think the same sort of argument applies to the Police, the cleansing services and the library.
    Could someone please tell me what else the Council is really for?
    Unless, of course, it is to get all those numpties, who the Comprehensive System belches forth, off the streets…..

  18. Dave K
    August 10, 2009


    I am sure you know the %age split of Local Government income ie Council Tax ,Govt Grant and Business Rate and any other.

    Of the the 3 Council Tax is only paid (if at all) by those not entitled to any form of Benefit Govt Grant is at the whim of the controlling Govt The only one that is paid in full is Business Rate and is determined by Govt.

    All Council Tax payers are entitled to vote in Local Govt Elections even if they are exempt from paying the Tax The Govt Grant has an element of voter choice at General Elections BUT Business Rate Payers are completly disenfranchised as far as matters concerning them and are milked by most councils both by paying the tax and by further charges and by over zealous enforcement of charges regulations etc

    Years ago there was an oppurtunity for Business to have some say in the composition of local Councils by what was known as The Business Vote ie each Business had a vote or votes depending upon the Rateable Value of their premises It also produced a Councillor who may just have had some semblance of ability to understand and run a large organisation like a Local Authoriy

    Is it not time we considered reintroducing The Business Vote?

    What is The Conservative Party’s view if they have one or hvent they considered it either?

  19. TimC
    August 10, 2009

    Mike Stallard-

  20. Matthew Reynolds
    August 10, 2009

    Well this sounds like a strong argument for locally collected VAT to fund locally provided services ! Councils would be forced to hold down VAT to encourage wealth creation & enterprise so that there was the money for basic services. Councillors could no longer blame Westminster for their own failings and more people would vote in local elections as local government suddenly seemed more important vested as it was with the powers to radically affect peoples lives. If VAT was set at a lower rate but applied to all goods & services and all receipts & bills had the hard cash that people had paid to their council in VAT then voters could look at their services and make a democratic judgement on how well their local authority was doing.

    By doing this you would provide local government with the freedom and the economic pressure to deliver lower taxes & decent services. Brussels would hate it as they would no longer get anything from us via VAT and HM Treasury that helped cause the Credit Crunch would suffer a loss of power. If schools where all run by elected local trusts & most powers left the Communities & Local Government Department then the Schools Department could be merged with the Local Government Ministry . That means fewer politicians & civil servants in Westminster and greater local autonomy & accountability. Councils would be under pressure to stop wasting money or face the wrath of the electorate. Elected police chiefs would be great as local top cops would face a choice – fight crime as local people wanted or get kicked out of office by a population sick of PC nonsense & criminals laughing at the law.

    The big centralized state has failed and powers need devolving so that services can be aligned more closely to the desires of the taxpayer that funds them. This policy prescription could tackle the insane waste that John Redwood so eloquently alludes to in his fine post. Proper foundation hospitals with the Department of Health slimmed down, fewer Soviet style targets , more market discipline to get resources used better and fewer QUANGO’s could lead to a second spring for the NHS that was reformed to meet rising expectations etc. The man in Whitehall cannot possibly know the healthcare needs in say Wantage or Leeds – proper Spanish style Foundation hospitals with greater powers & less Whitehall meddling can move things on. If a local hospital cannot treat someone within a medically desirable time-frame then a private provider should be allowed to do so if it costs less than the NHS. That way you supply greater choice and give the NHS an incentive to treat more people quicker. The NHS would be compelled to direct more funds to front-line care – better value for money is a good Tory idea !

    I want to thank John Redwood for having written his post on local government as it stimulated me to have a real think about the need to end the bloated client state and empower people to make services better via decentralization and more market forces. He is right on more local decision making as my other musings about health , education and crime prove. Making LEA’s just voucher dispensers with a Poor Pupil Premium designed to get more children into better schools via greater choice is a vote winner surely ? Giving academies more freedom would make this scheme work better as the less power that LEA’s have over a school seems to see that school have better academic results.

    I do hope that what John has written is a portent of radical Tory thinking on devolving power and I am grateful for the chance to offer some ideas ! Thanks John !

  21. Brian E.
    August 10, 2009

    Most Councillors seem to be frightened of their permanent officials, particularly those responsible for Health & Safety and legal matters.
    Questioning a local councillor about some of the things they had approved, I asked about the humps installed along the road by the local schools. “Legal advised that there is a possibility of the council being sued if it a child was hurt and could be shown that we hadn’t taken steps to slow the traffic” (Due to the traffic you can’t do more that about 10mph at school coming and going times!).
    I asked a whole string of questions about various council activities which I considered unnecessary; all were claimed to be for health & safety reasons or because the council might be sued. And the Councillors won’t take any risk, because the legal people tell them there is a risk they might be personally liable! As a result the officials do exactly what they want, running roughshod over the Councillors!
    And why, every time I have any dealings with the council do they want to know my ethnic origin? I rang about a street lamp which needed repairing, they wanted to know my ethnic origin; they sent a questionnaire about their new street cleaning & refuse collection contractors – part of it required to know my ethnic origin. Why ? What is the relevance ?
    The response “We might be sued if we didn’t carry out proper ethnic monitoring”
    And if it is needed, why do the whites, the majority population in this area, only have a choice of “White-British” or “White-other”, whilst the minority population have a wide choice, some of which aren’t ethnic but country related?
    Fortunately, I’ve just discovered from the 1911 census that my grandfather was Swiss, so I now put down my origin as being Anglo-Swiss, which will confuse the computer if nothing else!

  22. Robert George
    August 10, 2009

    I am fortunate enough to have a house in Sydney and another in Gloucestershire. The Sydney house is twice the size and value of the English property (which is quite modest) yet the Rates in Gloucestershire which is by no means a high rating area are more than twice those in Sydney for the same basic services. Why – well you seem to have provided the answers.

  23. Tony Henderson
    August 11, 2009

    It is absolutely true that most councils are squeezing local residents dry though council tax, parking charges, fees etc. However, Tory councils are as bad as Labour. I lied in North Tyneside when it was Labour controlled and they were happy to milk local people and businesses. I know live in Tory controlled Surrey Heath and they are happy to milk local businesses and residents dry. It is like playing spot the difference. Meanwhile, Woking council, also Tory controlled has huge debts and crazy spending plans all of which seem to be driven by the unelected officers rather than the elected councillors. Too many council projects are simply vanity projects.
    Tory councillors are in danger of damaging the party nationally and potentially costing David Cameron seats at the next election.
    Cameron needs to get a grip on these councillors and impose strict rules, particularly regarding vanity projects and claiming allowances.
    They may argue that this is a matter for local democracy, but if their actions damage the Tory brand nationally, and it is only general elections that really matter, then Cameron should not hesitate to prevent them using the Conservative name.

  24. no-name
    August 13, 2009

    A bit late to this item, but I wonder if you know whether Reading is one of the areas where a portion of the Community Charge is creamed off and sent to “needy” parts of the country?

    If so, how does it impact on their need to raise revenue from other sources, that cannot be tampered with by central government?

    Reply: We now pay the Council Tax. That is not creamed, but business rates are now collected nationally and we do not get back all that our local businesses contribute.

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