The other week, as Wokingham’s local budget drew closer, I had a look at the fallacy inherent in the Conservative obsession with council tax cuts/freezes at all cost. There were a lot of things I had to say about it, chiefly calling for a more nuaunced look at the issue than the “cuts good, rises bad” dichotomy that they stick to.
But in my holding forth on Wokingham’s budget, I’d overlooked this little gem in The Henley Standard. Henley has a town council, under South Oxfordshire District Council, so it makes sense that the Standard would focus on town/parish council level. Here’s what they say (emphasis added):
“The biggest rise is in Sonning Common at 20 per cent, or £6.67 a year extra. Other rises include Peppard at three per cent, Wargrave (2.49 per cent) and Watlington (one per cent). Benson Parish Council is reducing its precept from £69.14 to £68.57 per household.”
I reckon a lot of readers will be particularly shocked at the percentage figure for Sonning Common, but I’m not going to pass judgement on it directly, as I don’t known enough about the parish’s situation. The fact that Wargrave faces an increase interests me.
The thing is that council tax has a number of constituents. There’s the part that goes to the local authority, but for Wargrave residents there are also the precepts charged by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and the parish council, as well as the likes of police authorities. It’s already widely known that the Borough Council have taken a one-off government grant to freeze their share, and so have RBFRS.
But parish councils get no such grant, so if they are to freeze or cut their precepts, then they have to bear the pain of it themselves. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t cut or freeze precepts, but it does seem a bit of a cheek for the Conservatives in power at grant-gifted Borough Council level to be laying into Woodley Town Council for not cutting their precepts.
I don’t really know that much about Wargrave Parish Council’s activities and expenditures. They did have a non-functioning website, but that now seems to have died off completely. As such, I’m not going to lash out with fire and brimstone at them for daring to raise precepts, as I suspect they play a significant role in the excellent biennial Wargrave Festival, and there may be very valid reasons for a minor increase.
However, the two Conservative councillors who represent the village at Borough Council, Bob Pitts and John Halsall (both of whom live outside of the parish, though still within the ward- in Ruscombe and Remenham respectively) both lent considerable rhetorical support to the local budget, praising Wokingham for freezing its share of council tax. Given that Wargrave Parish Council is conservative with a small c if not with a capital C, and given that Mr Halsall will be standing against me for re-election in May, I wonder whether they would support the parish councillors, or damn them as their colleagues did Woodley Town Council?
There is room for both hypocrisy and idiocy here.