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Should councils trumpet Council Tax freezes?

Have_you_heard_web_banner Should Councils that achieve a cut or freeze in the Council Tax publicise the issue? Off course it will bee just such councils which are conscious of the need to restrain spending on publicity. It will also be just such councils who will be the ones who appreciate that there will always be more to do. There will always be further savings that could be achieved through eliminating waste and inefficiency that will lead to some natural reticence about boasting.

Yet, on balance, I think such achievements should be trumpeted. The difference it makes to Council's Communications Budgets can pretty negligible. In Hammersmith and Fulham we produce a jaunty pop video cover of Status Quo's Down, Down, Deeper and Down which cost £500 in total - the band Harry Hammersmith and the Flyovers just charged expenses. But got lots of attention. This is in the context of halving our number of press officers and bringing in £300,000 a year of advertising revenue to make our Council newspaper self financing.

Harrow Council has put some pop art ads on their dust carts - which again won't have cost much but will have got noticed.

A great advantage of making a big deal out of the issue is that having raised the consciousness of local residents a council will be under pressure to sustain progress in future years.

This is not to say that the more traditional approach to gettting the message across should be ignored. Quite rightly Council advertising is restricted from making partisan points. So councillors need to get stuck into the debate themselves. There will be a vigorous and dishonest Unison/Labour Party campaign for higher Council Tax suggesting the only alternative is to leave the poor and elderly starving on the streets. This must be answered. For instance here is Cllr Mary Mears, the Conservative leader of Brighton and Hove Council coming out fighting with the following letter to The Argus.

Unison boss Alex Knutsen needs to look again at the Conservative Party’s council tax plans before criticising me so strongly (Letters, March 3).

The national Conservative Party’s pledge to freeze council tax for any local authority that delivers a council tax increase of 2.5% or less has been public for about 18 months now. I mentioned this in my budget speech last year, if Mr Knutsen had taken the trouble to listen.

Should the Conservatives win the General Election in the next couple of months, we must put ourselves in a position to take advantage of that pledge. Indeed, it would be entirely irresponsible of us not to plan for this eventuality and we believe that the residents of the city of Brighton and Hove would expect nothing less.

In the current economic downturn the last thing that families need is yet another increase in their council tax bills.

For Mr Knutsen to talk about the “destruction of local government services” is cynical politics. I challenge him to name one service that has been “destroyed” by our last budget, which was made possible by £12 million of efficiency savings – not cuts to frontline services.

The Conservatives’ freeze proposals would be funded by cutting central government advertising and consultancy budgets, so would not involve councils having to make any additional savings.

It is quite right to say we are facing the challenging prospect of having to make savings of £15m a year over the next few years but this Conservative administration is up to the challenge.

And why are we being forced to make these savings? It is because the Labour Government which Mr Knutsen’s organisation funds has racked up a national budget deficit which is as bad as Greece’s.

If they weren’t having to spend the equivalent of the entire national defence budget just paying interest on the Government’s debt, then there might be a bit more money to go around for local authorities such as ours.


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