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Even More Equitable Taxation

Even more equitable taxationNever one to know when he's flogging a dead horse, the Commissar has been pressing on with plans to introduce the unpopular, deceitful and potentially unlawful 'Equitable Taxation' scheme he was sold by the former Chief Executive. As regular readers will know, counterbalance has covered the detail of this extensively in previous articles (see 'Equitable it's Not' and 'State of the Borough' and 'Another Equitable Scandal' and 'Shifting Expenses' and 'Council Funding').

But there are some developments to report. The matter was reported to a Cabinet Politburo Meeting recently and Deputy Politburo Leader Roger (Always Ultra) Small chaired it, because the Commissar was away.

Councillor Mrs Heather Speak said - well actually, she wasn't allowed to be her namesake and say something, but the Politburo Cabinet does allow her to provide a written question - provided she that she submits it early enough for a prepared answer to be concocted. 

It seems that the Borough has asked the Parish Councils to support the introduction of Equitable Taxation, and her question was that her patch (Treales Wharles and Roseacre), won't fare very well with Equitable Taxation, but they don't fare very well now under the Commissar's regime, so why should they support it?

The question was answered by Politburo convert (and multi-faceted transferee from being 'Truly Independent') Councillor Paul Rigby, who went excitedly off-message to say it was her fault that Treales Wharles and Roseacre didn't have many facilities, "Who else should be blamed apart from the local Councillor" he asked? 

He said she should be like Warton (his patch), and "get things done". We presumed he meant that Mrs Speak should follow his example, and have fewer qualms about compromising her personal and political integrity in order to "get things done for her patch."

Deputy Chief Executive David Joy, (who was accused of "conning people" at the 'State of the Borough' event) reported the latest position. 

The current spin seems to be that any parish who have ever said they support the scheme gets reported as being in favour of it, (even if it was years ago when they didn't know what it was all about), but the report fails to record the most up to date results, as parishes are realising that even where they appear to get a saving from the discredited scheme, it will be more than swallowed up overall as the Borough Council uses the opportunity to increase Council Tax overall by more than the Government's capping limit.

In addition, the Borough Council won't be handing over any of the Government Grants they get. The Borough Council's income comes about 33% from Council Tax, and 66% from Government.  But Parish Councils are not eligible for Government grants, so when they spend a pound, they have to raise a pound from local residents. If the Borough Council spends a pound, it only costs local taxpayers 33p because the Government chips in the other 66p.

Mr Joy was quite candid, admitting that a key aim of the scheme was to get round the Government's capping limit and allow them to raise and spend more overall. He said that, like the Poll Tax, if it was introduced, the scheme would create a differential approach to taxation levels within the Borough and there would be winners and losers.

Chillingly, he also said he didn't think it had been helpful to consult people at the same time as they were working out the legal moves they could make, and that in future, they should not be afraid of doing all the work behind closed doors before making anything public.

Another perspective on this, (and the view counterbalance supports), says that it was a barmy, divisive, deceitful idea that consultation has shown to be unpopular, and apart from being unable to impose it on us easily, the Council miserably failed to have a proper understanding of what the law on this matter allowed them to do, and this precipitated several revisions of the plan, each less good than the one before as they found themselves less and less able to cheat the system. 

We also level the charge that FBC's threat to impose a "Special Expenses" regime if Parishes fail to commit electoral suicide by volunteering to charge their taxpayers more, is still probably unlawful given their justification for not doing so now (and ever since the legislation was introduced).

The most telling point of the meeting however was toward the end, when temporary acting Commissar Roger (Always Ultra) Small said that although he would go along with the recommendation to ask Parishes to prepare two sets of figures for this year's budget, he was beginning to have doubts about the sense in trying to continue this project, especially in view of the "Elswick Letter" that had been circulated to Politburo members.

counterbalance thinks his conversion might also have something to do with bigger Council Tax bills landing on the doormats in April, and an election in May that even his lot can't spin their way out of, so it's probably a dead duck that is only twitching. 

So that our readers don't feel left out, counteralance obtained a copy of the 'Elswick Letter' which, from a small parish Council, demonstrated so much more grasp and understanding of the issues around the Commissar's so-called 'equitable taxation' that we think they should be appointed to run FBC's legal department rather than those doing it now.

Elswick's main points were that it was chosen by the Sports Council to be a central hub for a collection of villages, which, when taken together reached the minimum population for grant-aided sports facilities, and it would be unreasonable to expect Elswick residents alone to bear the full cost of something that was only provided on the basis that it would be shared by several villages. 

They also referred to the undertaking that FBC had given to both Elswick and the Sports Council before the facilities were built, that FBC would guarantee the maintenance costs in perpetuity.

Tellingly, the letter also hinted at legal action by the Parish Council against FBC if the scheme went ahead because some of the Parish facilities are let exclusively to teams from outside the village, and it would be unlawful to make Elswick's residents pay for providing facilities specifically for neighbouring Singleton parish residents.

Elswick concluded by saying they would not be accomplices to the deception being attempted by FBC to circumvent the UK law limiting Council Tax increases, and consequently they wouldn't be preparing alternative budgets as asked.

We since understand that the key player in this saga, the new St Anne's Town Council, (without whose support FBC's scheme is a waste of financial effort) will not be participating, so if the Commissar does push it forward, he will pay the electoral price, so he will probably drop it. 

For the record, the latest version of the scheme offers no improvement, and would cost the 70% of Fylde's council tax payers in Lytham and St Annes an extra 18.86  a year in traceable costs, and an additional unknown sum depending on how high Fylde Council increased its Council Tax. It would also mean people in Elswick would be paying more Council tax than anywhere else in the Borough, and  they would be paying 79 a year more than say, Fylde residents in Westby.

Like we said, barmy, divisive, deceitful.

Dated:  9 October 2006


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