Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sunday Sounds 78 - The 1,000th Post Edition!

There was really only one thing I could choose for my 1,000 post: I'm Gonna be (500 miles) by The Proclaimers.



Thursday, 20 February 2014

Cross-posted: Some thoughts on Bristol's Budget

My piece for the Bristol Lib Dem website on Tuesday's Budget decision:

Politics can be murky business at times but in Bristol things are remarkably clear following the Budget debate yesterday: your Council Tax will be going up by 1.95% in April.

Something else is clear, too: all the parties had their price in supporting the Mayor's budget. Only one, though, was prepared to defend the ordinary Council Tax payer against an increase in this regressive tax.

Only one party recognised that, while the economy is starting to recover, household budgets remain tight and argued that people should be protected from increased costs, if possible.

Only one party had the vision to find the funding that would have enabled a Council Tax freeze: 50% from Central Government, the rest from council reserves set aside in case of various eventualities but often untouched for years.

Only one party... but the Mayor and Council rejected this approach, and voted through a budget that will see every Council Tax payer pay more.

So what of the other parties? Well, Labour are arguing that the Lib Dems' Freeze The Tax campaign is a cynical ploy. But whilst Labour talk tough and refer to a "cost of living crisis", they have refused to support a practical measure to address this. Now, that is what I call cynical.

They argue that they have managed to obtain a package of reversed cuts unlike any achieved by any opposition party in Bristol Council's history. The reality, though, is that all it took for them to move from a position where "we cannot support the budget" to a position of support was £1.3million of cuts reversed. £1.3million from a budget of £389million.

Ironically, £1.3million is precisely what a Council Tax Freeze would cost. But the source of the funds was different. Had Labour been prepared to negotiate, they could have had their amendment and a Council Tax Freeze. Like I said, cynical.

Meanwhile, the Tories - whose representative on the Mayor's cabinet is Deputy Mayor and has responsibility for Finance matters - were whole-heartedly in favour of the Budget. Indeed, they did not table any amendments to the substantive debate.

Whilst nationally Eric Pickles and other Conservative ministers pushed Councils to freeze the tax, the Bristol Tories chose to support raising them. The self-describing 'Party of Lower Taxes' does not, it appears, believe in them for Bristolians.

The Mayor - in a party of one - is often caricatured as still being a Lib Dem in all but name. After last night, though, I believe that that notion can be put to rest. He was adamant from the start that he would not freeze the tax - and with the help of all parties but his former one, he got his way.

Finally, the Greens - what was their contribution? Well, as with the Tories, they brought forward no amendments. They have variously said that this was because their arguments are national, that without Trident the Council would have more to spend, that a 'Robin Hood Tax' on financial transactions would be a cure-all, that they argued their case in Cabinet and behind the scenes and that 1.95% rise is modest and OK as below inflation... 

Whatever, the over-riding impression is that, at best, they have failed to engage and, at worst, they would have wanted a higher rise such as the 4.95% being levied in Green-controlled Brighton.

So when your Council Tax bill arrives, and you're forking out more each month, remember that there was one party prepared to take a stand for freezing the tax, one party that wasn't bought off, one party that wasn't complicit in raising your taxes and one party that wasn't prepared to stand idly by.

It wasn't a cynical ploy and it really could have been achieved but for the other parties who took positions contrary to their rhetoric, policy or both.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Spot the Difference

These two posters are currently being displayed on adjacent bus stops in Bristol City Centre...