Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ants and Grasshoppers in Thanet

Reading the letter in the Thanet Gazette from Labour's Councillor Nottingham this week, I confess to finding myself a little bemused.

The good councillor writes: "Local people may have seen Laura Sandys pledge that the Conservatives will reduce tax for local business at some time in the future. Pledges are fine. She could be taking action to save local people money now and is failing to do so. After Thanet Council’s 2009 budget was set the Government allocated an extra £314,324. This “windfall” came in late and as the Gazette (27/2/09) reported, Martin Wise Cabinet member for Finance has decided to keep the money for future years."

He adds: " I am therefore writing to ask her (Laura) Sandys) publicly to call on Thanet Council to spend this windfall payment right now when we all need it."

I do rather wonder if 'Local people' want to see the so-called windfall divided by the population of Thanet and imemdiately reduced from from their council tax or would prefer to see the money held in reserve as a contingency against further financial surprises which are almost bound to come,as the economy spirals steadly downward.

In fact, I'm not convinced Cllr Nottingham has done all his homework on the subject because I'm reminded that we've been landed by the Government, with the cost of concessionary bus fares, which quite possibly leaves enough change for a small burger and French fries and if your'e lucky, a milkshake; divided among 70,000 or so Thanet residents.

Do remember that the reccession is a Conservative myth, according to our local Labour opposition and I'm making all this up. It reminds me of Aesop's story of the Ant & the Grasshopper:

"The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.

Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold."

I believe, in the circumstances, it's only wise to keep any 'Windfall' in reserve because as each week goes by, it becomes apaarent that we haven't seen the bottom of the financial crisis. If we carry on as we are, councils across the land will soon be faced with very hard choices and little or no money to properly fund important community services to the level that the public quite rightly expects. So you can see that Cllr Nottingham and I are diametrically opposed on the subject and I support the fiscal prudence shown by Cllr Wise.

Finally, what Laura Sandys has got to do with this, other than Cllr Nottingham's rather frantic attempts to wave his 'little red book' , as a professional Labour activist, to prevent her, by any means, from winning Thanet South at the next General Election, I don't know.

Perhaps I should write to the Gazette too?


Anonymous said...

I thought KCC paid the necessary for the free bus passes not TDC.

I think you'll find the £300k is classed as a windfall and the government has given the money on the basis that it is spent now not popped away for the future.

Isn't Councillor Notthingham's point that the money should be used now to give relief to struggling traders like those in your own ward, Westgate? There must be some criterion whereby TDC can assist businesses affected by the ATM being hors de combat or businesses affected by roadworks.

Ms. Sandys' argument that a future Tory government would do this doesn't mean you can't pre-empt such a scheme. That's the way I read it, anyway.

Anonymous said...

The concessionary bus pass money is included in the grant to TDC. Stagecoach have recently challenged the percentage of costs for the scheme that they have to bear, and won, and so many districts have had to find more money than budgeted for this year, next year and probably all subsequent years. We have to find considerably more money this year and next, and this is similar for Canterbury, Shepway and Dover.

The £314k "windfall" is a percentage return from business rates received from new businesses registered over the past year. The scheme (known as LABGI) was intended to encourage councils to attract new businesses and we have done very well out of it in past years because of Westwood Cross.

The £314k this year is less than half received in previous years and from memory this is the last year of this particular scheme, and its replacement will give a tiny fraction of what we have received in the past.

It is not true to say that the LABGI scheme was windfall money, because the government has reduced the annual increase in our grant according to how much we were expected to receive. e g. 3% grant before the scheme, and only 1.1% this year. So they give with one hand and take away with the other.

Our difficulty now is that next year we have been told to expect only 1.1% increase (but in fact rumours indicate we will receive ZERO % due to the governments difficulties), the LABGI scheme will give 0%, and we are capped.

Our big challenge here in Thanet is to cut discretionary spend (on the non-essential / priority services), or raise charges. My personal challenge is to repeat 3.99% council tax increase or lower next year, and 2.50% the year after that, considering the state of the economy, both present and forecast, is a big one!

The Council have used LABGI money to support our Corporate Plan improvement spending, and will continue to do so wherever possible. It is not a fund to bail out businesses with help for rates, and councils do not have discretion on this, apart from very short term difficulties for charitable businesses where there is already provision in our budget.

We already have the lowest council tax increase in Kent and we are working very hard to ensure the best value money possible for Thanet residents as our most recent performance figures clearly illustrate.

Cllr Martin Wise

DrMoores said...

I'm corrected by Cllr Nottingham who points out that Thanet has rather more than 70,000 residents. He's quite correct as I was taking a 'stab' at the approximate number paying council tax without researching the exact figure and shouldn't have said it was the population.

That said, if you use the total population to spread the windfall around, then the burger, fries and milkshake for everyone equation, simply becomes, I suspect, a small packet of French fries!

Anonymous said...

You of course, accepting a Chairmanship of a 'new' committee, not only makes you out to be a recipient of the Leaders largesse, but also adds to the burden on the rate payers, does it not!!

West Cliff GB said...


All detail aside, I look forward, in 2010, to asking Lord Ladyman for Ketchup.

Maybe his trainee, the Home Sec. (Ex) will be able to tell me which non-Disney Film is currently on view in the Smith (second) Household.

Hopefully it won't be available watch with 5 Happy-Meal tokens.

Tasteful? No
Topical? Certainly
Funny? Absolutely

Rome. Days. Of. Last.

DrMoores said...

Ahh,, the 'non-existent; committee you worry so much about 9:56!!

In fact, it's first meeting is on April 8th.

I'm not convinced that chairing a committee with its very modest stipend is really evidence of 'largesse' by any stretch of the imagination. Someone has to do it and I've been invited because I have an existing skillset and experience that may prove useful.

Are you suggesting that councillors receive no allowance, however small, at all for their additional special responsibilities and duties?

Anonymous said...

Why can't you use some of the £300k to award hardship relief from business rates to traders in the town centres most affected by the Westwood Cross scheme ? After all, TDC taxpayers only pick up 25% of the tab - the government picks up the rest.

This could be awarded for 09/10 and would be a massive help to struggling traders and a timely boost to TDC's aim of vibrant town centres.