Friday, February 27, 2009

All About Money

More political ‘tosh’ to write about today, this time in the form of a press release issued by Thanet’s Labour group in response to the full meeting on the budget yesterday evening. Fortunately Labour’s latest blogger, Cllr Nottingham failed, to make an appearance in his signature T-shirt and jeans and so we were spared the constant busy tapping sounds of his making notes on his mobile phone.

Quite unable to deliver any cogent criticism of a Conservative plan for Thanet’s finances, delivered by Cllr Martin Wise and that will see quite substantial savings by the council at a very difficult time. Thanet Labour predictably went for the headlines, pouring scorn on the decision to:

“Charge £10 for bus passes to what is term "companions". Enquiries were made and it turns out the charge is for bus passes for carers who have to accompany the disabled!”

Following Labour Leader, Cllr Nicholson’s imaginative attack on the decision, it was Cllr Chris Wells, who quipped: “Cllr Nicholson has trouble with chips on both his shoulders tonight” and sadly, we weren’t spared the inevitable monologue on the subject from the presently ‘blogless’ Cllr David Green, which went on rather longer than I would care to remember.

Labour’s argument was:

“The disabled already face many higher costs due to their illness and this charge will be an extra burden on them and/or those who help and support them. We keep hearing from the Tories how they support the "third sector" but here is proof of their real intents, to squeeze as much out of anyone to cover their financial mess at TDC.”

Looking at the Labour’s cabinet, living as it still does in the pseudo-Marxist, ‘I’m alright Jack’ politics of the past, I for one am thankful that the island’s over-stretched finances are nowhere near their control, if it were, I might emigrate, given the broad collective absence of both fiscal common sense and any true real-world commercial experience.

I would say that wouldn’t I and couldn’t resist a political dig at the opposition. However, an occasional muted chorus of ‘The Red Flag’ and the constant council chamber reminders of the socio-political history of a generation past from the older ‘comrades’, doesn’t do the people of Thanet any favours. I grew up in the seventies too. I even met former Prime Minister Harold Wilson at university but fortunately that was as far as I got with old Labour!

Anyway, I asked Cllr Wise if he would put the record straight of at least his side of it before the local papers start running headlines accusing the Conservatives of kicking the disabled.

Martin, who is Cabinet Member for Finance, Improvement and Customer Service, said:

"The bus permit scheme is legislated and allows for free local bus travel for all pensioners over 60 and certain disabled people. The issue of companion travel is not covered by the legislation, because the Government feeling is that severely disabled customers receive additional financial help through the Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance etc..

"Thanet District Council operates an additional discretionary scheme whereby if a medical professional certified that a customer was medically unable to travel alone at all times, then the companion could also travel for free. The council meets the cost of the journeys made by the companion, whereas the travel for the disabled customer is met by central government grant. This particular area of permits has seen substantial growth in recent years, which was being funded by the Council Tax Payer. It was decided that it was fair to request a contribution to the cost of the companion's travel, bearing in mind that the scheme is discretionary and the travel costs are already paid to the disabled customer through other means.

The alternative was not to allow companion travel at all. This move would have disadvantaged the disabled customers more than requesting a contribution. The permits were offered for free last year on a one off basis, but this was unable to be replicated in 2009/10."

So there you have it. Truth is a relative thing and it shifts quite alarmingly when politics is involved. Last night, we discussed and voted upon a budget and council tax increase for the island that should save millions of pounds over the next four years. God knows, we are going to need every penny thanks to central Government only giving us a 1% leg-up this year.

Concessionary bus passes cost local councils a small fortune and I’m informed we overspent by £180,000 to £200,000 this year. It’s something we have to do as Government has mandated it, regardless of whether councils can afford the scheme or not. I would like for everyone to travel free on the buses but the driving political question is how much of such freedom or generosity can we really afford given the financial constraints that we are now facing?


Michael Child said...

I think the point here Simon is that both at a national and local level the public sector has become disproportionably large in comparison to the private sector. There is a magic figure around 30% if I remember rightly, although economics isn’t something I know much about, once you pass this figure which every economic advisor will know it is unsustainable.

However either party sets it’s budget it doesn’t address the economic time bomb here, which for the UK when it explodes will probably be even worse that this current recession, caused by caustic debt, greed and poor regulation of the banking system.

What TDC KCC and national government should be doing at the moment, is looking at those departments and individuals that don’t perform a necessary function and taking action now.

With much less in terms of productive private sector wealth being generated to support public sector spending, I am afraid TDC should be announcing a reduction in taxation proportionate to the contraction of the private sector at the very least.

Anonymous said...

Yes Michael. This was a point made a year or so ago on "Slugger O Toole" blog. The public sector pension liability for Northern Ireland exceeds the Northern Ireland economy. I think they made the point that this is a timebomb for the whole of UK too.