Council tax letters are landing on doormats across the district and, as always, one of the more frustrating aspects of it is having more than one tier of local government.
Daft as it may sound, the fact is that the council whose name appears on the bill isn’t the one which takes the lion’s share of the money. This can cause confusion.
I’ve written before about how I consider council tax to be unfair, but until central government comes up with a new system – the sheer thought of which probably fills the corridors or Whitehall and Westminster with dread – it isn’t going away.
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So let’s consider a bill that would have been received by someone living in a band C property in a part of the Canterbury district without a parish council.
The amount charged by the authorities is this:
- Kent County Council: £1,039.68
- Kent Adult Social Care Precept: £60.48
- Canterbury City Council: £150.36
- The Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent: £182.40
- Kent & Medway Fire & Rescue Authority: £67.12
What I find most frustrating is that it falls on the district council to issue the bills.
So in the top right corner of the bill is the city council’s logo, even though of the £1,500.04 due, the city council’s share is £150.36 – or 10%.
If, for example, bins aren’t collected a comment made by some residents tends to be “I pay £1,500-a-year to you lot and you can’t collect my bins”.
That’s understandable when the name on the bill is Canterbury City Council.
But to look at the actual figures, this band C household will pay around £2.90-a-week for all city council services, of which bin collections are just one.
Depending on where the residents live, taking their own rubbish and recycling to a KCC-owned municipal tip may well cost them more than £2.90 each week in fuel costs, to say nothing of their time and inconvenience.
Making annual bills more understandable isn’t a reason to push for the abolition of the two-tier council structure and replace it with a system of unitary authorities.
That’s a far more complex debate which has been going on for decades.
And I would suggest those living in Medway, which does have one layer of local government, may well find it easier to understand where their council tax actually goes.
Bin collections is a good example of this. While the city council is responsible for collecting rubbish from houses, the county council is responsible for disposing of it. I’d much rather one council did both – and I honestly don’t mind which one that would be.
The breakdown of figures also shows how my own aspiration, for lack of a better word, to make Canterbury City Council not just wholly independent of central government funding, but also independent of council tax, wouldn’t make as big a difference to people’s pockets as such a change may first suggest.
Let’s imagine, for one moment, the city council built up a commercial property portfolio of a significantly larger size than it has.
So large the revenue generated meant no council tax was needed to maintain the services residents want and deserve.
This would mean a Band C household for 2018/19 would still be facing a bill of £1,349.68.
Compared to the 2017/18 bill of £1,429.85, this would represent a reduction of just £80.12 or about £1.54-a-week.
In percentage terms this would equate to a reduction of 5.6%.
There is also a belief among some residents that councils and all they do are funded 100% by council tax.
People mistakenly think their hard-earned council tax is being spent on, for example, the Whitefriars property acquisition.
In reality, the purchase was funded through borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board and the interest payments more than covered by the rental income generated from the property.
There is a far better outline of where the money comes from, and what it is spent on, in the city council’s District Life publication each year.
And, for those who want to run the risk of getting lost in local authority spreadsheets, the full budget documents are all available online.
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All of that aside, for me it comes down to my opening point: the way the bill is presented and the name that has to, legally, be on the top of it.
Nobody would expect 90% of their telephone bill to include the cost of their gas, electric, water and the like.
Yet in the somewhat unfathomable world of local and national government, apparently it is quite acceptable for Canterbury City Council to issue bills and collect payment when it is only responsible for spending 10% of it.
But it is quite understandable if residents think they are paying Canterbury City Council a four-figure sum each year when that is the name on the top of the bill.
As a city councillor, I think it only right that residents have the opportunity to have as much say as possible in shaping the future of local government.
Sadly, unless the way local government is funded is made much more clearer, getting residents involved in a really useful, meaningful manner is not anywhere near as easy as it should be.
Neil Baker is member of the Conservative Party and the Canterbury City Council member for Tankerton Ward.