Barnet Council has frozen council tax for some time now yet it was a 'top three' concern for residents in the last perception survey (which 1600 randomly selected residents take part in). There will be various reasons for this but the fact remains it's a concern that needs to be addressed.
The opposition and socialists may argue it's because residents don't feel they're getting something for their council tax. However, the same survey suggests that this is not the case: 72% of residents felt the council was doing a good job, 55% offering value for money and 60% improving their area.
So the question is, do we address this concern with more of the same i.e. freezing council tax again?
My view is quite simple: no, we must do something different. Something that will send a reassuring message to tax payers. A message that says that at least one significant cost of running a household will not be going up and up. Cutting council tax and committing to freeze it thereafter gives residents certainty in what are still uncertain times.
Critics will argue it's ideological as if having ideology is a disorder that needs stamping out. Thatcher would have never sorted this country out without ideology and there are some principles which will never go out of fashion: low taxes are one of them.
The ill-informed will say cutting tax can only be done by raiding reserves. How wrong they are. A cut would be funded by the money Eric Pickles is giving Barnet to freeze council tax; because we had planned to freeze it without central government assistance (and prior to the announcement there would be any) the extra money can now be used to cut tax next year. The freeze was being planned against the context of significant outsourcing savings and other efficiencies, but now these factors put us in a position to cut council tax instead of freezing it.
To fund the ongoing impact of lower council tax revenue (approx £1.5m) there will need to be more savings made in the future but the savings are there to be made, as the last few years have shown. Besides, we are a growing borough one of the benefits of which is an increase in the tax base that can in itself assist finances as well as create challenges.
The timing will be criticised too. An election is looming! Nonsense. Only this year was concern over council tax established through the perception survey results. Only this year will the One Barnet savings start coming through because the cost of some services will be cheaper than they were last year.
The 'actual amount' discounted from bills will also be attacked: it's 'only pennies'. Apparently we should only give tax payers some money back if it's in the hundreds. Why? Every little helps and the collective borough-wide figure of £1.5m going back into residents' pockets is not to be sniffed at.
Of course, not everyone will like the proposal. Socialists, the usual anti-council brigade and those with an axe to grind will all condemn the idea but that's what I expected. Let them - they've never really been in touch with the wider Barnet public anyway.
Cutting taxes is a conservative principle, why people are surprised when conservatives actually do it is beyond me. We can't ignore genuine borough-wide concern and Barnet's Conservatives do not intend to do so.