Sunday, March 02, 2008

Conservatives using council tax for propaganda purposes?

Southampton has a hung council, with 18 Conservatives, 18 Labour councillors and 12 Lib-Dems. Labour should have formed the administration in May 2007 as they hold the position of Mayor, but one Lib-Dem voted with the Conservatives to put them into power.

In November 2007, the conservative-run council sent out a letter to all the council tax payers stating what their budget proposals would be - a 10% cut for the over 65's. They state in the letter that "At the moment this new discount is only a proposal and the final decision to introduce it will not be made by the city council until February 2008". They intended to pay for the discount with £8 million of cuts, mainly attacking children's services and schools (i.e. the discount for the old was to be paid for by hurting the young), but this was not unveiled till Jan 2008.

The Tories knew that they wouldn't be able to pass the budget which is subject to a full vote of the council - they had only 18 seats out of the 48 (37.5%). So why send out the letter? To publicise their council tax plans, and hopefully to convince some old people that the discount will go ahead if they vote Tory in 2008. It cost the council £100,000 to pay for this mailshot.

The trouble is that it is not clear that it was legal to send out this mailshot. In 1986, Margaret Thatcher passed legislation banning councils from issuing party political literature on the rates. Once a budget has passed it is OK to send out letters explaining changes if they have been substantial. But you shouldn't send out the letter beforehand, knowing that you have absolutely no chance of passing the budget, purely to get party political material out there at the council tax-payer's expense.

I think there should be an investigation into improper use of council tax money, and that the Tories should pay the council back the £100,000.

Some people reading this will be thinking tax cuts? spending cuts? Are these David Cameron's compassionate conservatives or old-fashioned Thatcherite Tories? Well they don't fit in with the touchy feely image the national party is putting about, that's for sure. Maybe the touchy feely stuff is just PR propaganda and the Tories will drop "compassion" just as quicky as Dubya did after being elected in 2000. The local Tories are not even very sensible - the worst decision being to hand two schools to an evangelical Christian consortium to be run, instead of to the trust run by Southampton University (the preferred choice of Labour).

What is becoming clear from the budget choices is that Conservatives are increasingly enagaged in old people v young people politics, where Conservatives = Old People.


Anonymous said...

If you get elected officials to start paying back money where will Livingstone get the funds to pay back the millions that are missing
on various non existent projects arranged via Lee Jaspaer?

Livingstone would also need to pay the council taxpayer back for his trips to Cuba,Venezuela etc that have nothing to do with London.

Could we also get the money back paid by Livingstone to entertain and showboat Qaradawi,you know the muslim fundamentalist that supports 9/11 and believes gays should be thrown off roofs?

Anonymous said...

Where I live the Tory councils are busy cutting funding to voluntary groups and to agencies that help people with housing problems.

So, whilst David Cameron speaks about encouraging the voluntary sector and increasing choice, his foot soldiers are doing exactly the opposite...

snowflake5 said...

Anonymous - are the activities you list for Ken Livingstone illegal? I think you will find that trips by the Mayor to new York or Venezuela are not illegal.

However, it IS illegal to use council tax money to specifically promote your campaign policy on the rates/council tax - Mrs Thatcher legislated to make it illegal. The conservatives in Southampton appear to have broken Thatcher's law.

Anonymous said...

Talking about taxpayers money Tom Watson Labour MP moves to the top of the snouts in troughs,he managed to pay out a staggering £300 k in expenses to family members.
Makes Conway's expenses look like petty cash.

snowflake5 said...

anonymous - it's not illegal to employ family members. What's illegal is to pay them for doing no work. AFAIK only Derek Conway has been caught paying family for doing no work

You seem to have deep difficulty in distinguishing between legal and illegal activity. Here is a clue - it's illegal if legislation exists prohibiting it.

Anonymous said...

Here in Brighton & Hove, the Tories have been cutting childrens and social care budgets since they took control in May. They tried to cut the times that pensioners could use their bus passes as well, but the uproar was too great, despite the best efforts of the local press to put a nice spin on it for them. The Tories will always cut subsidies to public transport and social services etc and build more car parks for drivers clogging the city with traffic and pollution. Their main constituencies of voters of higher tax payers and car drivers will always call for tax cuts for them at the expense of everyone else. The Tories have to pretend they are caring towards the poor and environment to get the votes to be elected, but don't believe them for a second. All round the country in council after council we can see what they really stand for.

Danivon said...

The Tories here (Crawley) are cutting services to kids in order to help keep the Council Tax increase down.

They have decided to 'postpone' the decision on which play centres to close until June. I wonder why that could be...