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Should councils increase their charges?

Screen shot 2011-01-09 at 09.25.57 "Councils pile on tax by stealth," says (£) the headline on the front page of The Sunday Times this morning.

But is reducing a subsidy really a "stealth tax"? One of the examples the Sunday Times mentions is the rent "doubling or tripling for allotments holders." But sometimes this is from a very low base, where there are long waiting lists and an increased charge still means those without allotments are paying a subsidy to those who have them.

For instance in Cheltenham the charges are being increased from £25 a year to £70 a year. But those plot holders contacted by the local paper still thought it represented very good value for money and felt the increase was reasonable.

Rather than subsidies for the few, councils  should look at imaginative ways of increasing the supply of allotments for the many.

Should the rich, as well as the poor, have subsidised sports centres? Or subsidised home helps? Or subsidised burial plots in which to place their deceased relatives? Remember than Council Tax takes up 6% of the income of those on the bottom fifth and 2% for the richest fifth. This is even after Council Tax benefit has been taken into account. So what is "progressive" about hiking Council Tax on the poor to maintain subsidies for the rich?

On the other hand when it comes to some of the other charges in unsubsidised areas, such as the big item of parking, I think The Sunday Times has got a point. Motorists are fleeced too much already. But my understanding of the rules regarding the "surplus" councils make from parking charges is that they are restricted on what they can spend it on. One area it covers is subsidies for public transport. The Sunday Times report also complains about these subsidies being cut. They can't have it every which way.


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