Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Joined up thinking

The Tory proposals to require 'high spending' councils to have a referendum before putting up the council tax, instead of capping them, has the potential to cause real chaos. Councils would have an incentive to put the most popular items in their budgets up as an alternative (no one is going to say 'if you don't vote for this 5% increase, we are going to have to reduce our IT procurement budget'). I wonder which would be the first area to decide to, e.g. shut all their old people's care homes rather than pay an extra £2 a year in council tax.

What I can't decide is whether this is a stunt to get good headlines, or whether it is a sign of the slash and burn, small government crazies getting their way.

One effect of these local referendums would be to absolutely hammer the voluntary sector. Charities which are involved in delivering services for the council would find that they were being asked to do the same or more with smaller budgets, and small groups which rely on the council for grant funding would find that there is less money to go round.

It's worth bearing this in mind next time Cameron or Duncan Smith go on about how they want to let the voluntary sector play a bigger role in tackling social breakdown.

Quick quiz. Given the choice between cutting taxes on property (today's policy), and giving money to charities which work with people who are socially excluded (last month's policy), which do you think a Tory government would do?

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