This is a first for me. I have a letter in the monthly village newsletter, and am disproportionately proud of it.
Just by way of background, Cllr John Halsall (who some of you may remember as my Tory opponent in the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe by-election) has taken up a monthly column in the Wargrave News, in which he keeps residents informed of goings on at the borough council. Of which I am wholly in support; engaging more with people on a local level is exactly what local politics needs to do.
However, last month (October) his column contained a passage which I couldn’t allow to stand unchallenged:
“[Wokingham is] the worst funded unitary authority in the country per head of population. (Business rates go directly to Government.)“
The thing is that whilst this is true, it is- as Cllr Halsall, a very intelligent man, undoubtedly knows- not the entire truth. Wokingham does receive the lowest central government grant of all local authorities in the country, and business rates do go directly to Westminster. However, Cllr Halsall makes a comparison with Slough (Wokingham, he claims, gets £125 per person, whereas Slough gets £441 per person), which confuses the matter. You see, Wokingham is a much wealthier area with many more taxpayers in Band D (paying 100% of council tax) and above, than in Slough. So they have a much higher taking of council tax, despite having a lower rate, because it is paid by more people.
Anyway, in my letter I said:
I note with Pleasure that Cllr John Halsall has taken up a column in the Wargrave News, with which to keep residents informed of his activities as local councillor. As a strong believer in localism and local democracy, I gladly welcome this.
However, I also note that in his last column (14 October 2011) he highlights that Wokingham receives the lowest government grant per head of any council in the country. but he fails to make clear that as a particularly well-off area, Wokingham receives more in council tax receipts than Slough or Reading (the contrasts he makes), as it has more residents in higher council tax bands.
I’m sure this couldn’t have been an attempt to contort the facts and make it appear that Wokingham is financially less well-off than is in fact the case. I’m sure that it was simply an honest oversight on the part of Cllr Halsall, and thus am happy to clarify the situation for him.
Matthew S. Dent”
I’ve since discovered that this little yarn is a favourite of the Conservatives on the council. At the council meeting last Thursday (17th November) David Lee (the leader of the council) commented on it twice during the course of the meeting. Whilst I would, of course, welcome more money for the people and services of Wokingham, such cynical twisting of the facts is dishonest and quite clearly designed to buy leeway with the public for the Conservatives’ ideological games, and general inefficiency and incompetence.
At any rate, I look forward to December’s column from Cllr Halsall. By rights, he should talk about the libraries debate. I wonder whether he’ll mention the executive’s utter disorganisation, or just parrot the party line on “outsourcing not privatisation”?