Thursday, 12 December 2013

Look after the taxpayer’s pennies and the Pounds will look after themselves

Anyone who has to live on a budget is familiar with the old adage about looking after the pennies. Sadly, this is not a concept readily understood by politicians when it comes to setting council tax. A few Pounds here or there won’t matter to them and they assume that it doesn’t matter to the people who have to pay the bills.

When your total council tax bill is running into thousands, who is going to complain about a measly few extra quid? At least, this is what our elected lords and masters hope. But it amounts to taxation by stealth and in these times of austerity, every tax penny must be fully justified.

Don’t Call Me Dave was therefore disappointed to receive a copy of ‘This is Chigwell’ - a glossy, full colour, eight page A4 ‘newsletter’ produced by the parish council. DCMD remembers the day when a newsletter was printed on one sheet of paper in black and white. Councils are not supposed to be magazine producers and DCMD shares the view of the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Eric Pickles, that local authorities should not be wasting taxpayers money on such publications.

According to information provided by the council, the cost of producing the newsletter for 2012/13 was £6,935.10. Advertising income was £1,400, so the cost to taxpayers was £5,535.10. DCMD suspects the actual cost to taxpayers was higher as the council’s figures cover printing, delivery and postage only. No figures were provided for design, copywriting and production costs.

Now in the grand scheme of things, does this really matter? Essex County Council, for example, has a budget of over £2 billion and they probably spend more than £5,000 on tea and chocolate biscuits for Director meetings. But Chigwell Parish Council has a somewhat smaller budget. For the year in question, the budget was £223,000 which means that nearly 2.5% was spent on the newsletter alone. Is this really an appropriate use of scarce resources?

Councillors will undoubtedly argue that in monetary terms it is not a significant sum. And it is precisely this flawed logic, which politicians regularly use to justify their profligacy, that enabled them to hike the parish precept this year by 27%.