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Equitable - It's not

Equitable - It's notUnless a way can be found to breathe life into its corpse, equitable taxation is a dead duck for the foreseeable future. Fylde Council called a special Council meeting on 31 October. Primarily this was  to refine their plans, and remove some of the grounds for parish council objections, but the meeting turned sensible, and killed the plan altogether.  Proposing the motion to end consideration of the matter now, Councillor Liz Oades said "We should spend no more money on looking at the question of 'equitable taxation'  and we should abolish it"

The debate was well introduced by Executive Officer David Joy who explained in candid and open terms the reason for the matter being on the agenda, and the process he had adopted to date. He admitted that the plan  was really about getting around the Government's capping limit "The agenda is avoidance of capping" he said. He went on to outline four possible variations of separate charging regimes for sixteen areas of Fylde, which produced widely differing Council Tax charges. 

He went on to say that following legal advice they could no longer include amenity cleansing (mostly this is street cleaning) and beach management in the plans, and that Councillors themselves had said the car parks should not be included (Perhaps they remembered the £400,000 pa income these generate and were reluctant to let that go to Parish Council coffers).

Opening the debate, John (The Commissar) Coombes told the councillors he was very much in favour of the idea, and said they should choose Option "D" - which treated tourist facilities and outdoor sport as General Expenses payable by all Fylde residents. He then invited questions. 

First was Paul Hayhurst of Elswick who wanted to see the financial impact of treating Lytham separately from combining Lytham and St Annes. Crucially, he also wanted to see the effect of dividing the Revenue Support Grant (that Fylde gets from the Government) between the parishes. This figure was not available.

Councillor Lancaster from Wrea Green said that if Lytham Green was to be treated as a tourist facility chargeable over all residents, why should Wrea Green not be treated the same. In this he highlighted the devil that lives in the detail of these plans.

Star of the show again however was the rock solid Councillor John Bennett from Kirkham. He said "This plan is 30 years too late. It has taken us 30 years to get this borough together, and this will split us asunder" He went on to accuse John Coombes of failing to grasp the real problem. He said "Mr. Deputy Mayor, it seems to me that for every £1 we draw in, we are spending £1.10, and this is just a con trick to let us spend £1.15"

Liberal Democrat Howard Henshaw said he was convinced that the whole exercise was a waste of time and money. He repeated the findings of the "State of the Borough" meeting where 77% of those present had voted against this plan. He went on to say that included a majority of those from the rural area.

Few Conservative councillors spoke. Colin Walton poured scorn on the idea and, referring to the 800 people who had opposed recent planning applications, he said that would be as nothing compared with the anger these plans would generate in St Annes.

Tim Ashton said they had a stark choice - did they want to reduce the budget deficit or not, if they do, they have to go along with this now.

Roger Small did his usual act as counterfoil to the Commissar and presented the 'reasonable man's approach' saying that there was still scope to refine the model, and they could do a better comparison at budget time.

Ratepayer Stephen Carpenter - one of the more thoughtful and astute councillors said "This whole exercise has been a nightmare and cost us a lot of money. Its a shame we ever embarked on it. We are not that big a borough and we should regard ourselves as one community. What we don't need are more divisive models. We should stop this now".

Closing the debate, Commissar Coombes said they had to follow this route. It was another tool in their toolkit and he formally proposed Option "D"

He went on to say they should not delay further. They had already spent £26,000 trying to agree the colour and make of the Mayoral car and this had been wasted money. They needed to approve the plan now. He also said if they didn't, most of the service cuts would have to be made in St Annes - the tourist area.

Offering a sop to those who appeared to be less well treated under his preferred Option "D" Commissar Coombes then said the officers could make further "refinements" to the plan so that Kirkham and Treales residents fared better that they would under Option "D", and they should approve this option as a "starting point".

In response to a further question, from Councillor Carpenter, he reminded the Deputy Mayor that after his summing up as leader of the Council, no further questions should be taken.

Once again he lived up to our view of him. Stick, and if that fails, a bit of carrot before an even bigger stick. Right on Commissar.

At this point Councillor Liz Oades from Kirkham proposed that the Council spend no more money on the issue of equitable taxation and that they drop the idea altogether.

Sensing a probable loss for his protégé, Chief Executive Mr. K Lee said whatever they decided was not really that big a deal. he went on to say that the County precept will swamp any increase Fylde makes, "and people won't see our increase"

When the vote was taken, all but one of the Conservatives either voted for or abstained, and a similar proportion of the non-conservatives, voted against. The result was a tied vote to be broken by the deputy Mayor's casting vote which he cast in support of Mrs. Oades' proposition.

Equitable taxation is now dead.........

Unless, of course, you know different.........

For more information on the background to this topic, please see, Another Equitable Scandal, Shifting Expenses and Council Funding

Dated: 1 November 2005


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