By William Mills
On Thursday 7th May the country goes to the polls for the General Election and here in Brighton we also have all 54 City Council seats up for re-election.
Since Brighton and Hove Councils merged in 2000 there has never been an outright winner with a majority, instead there was a Labour minority administration until 2007 when the Conservatives took over and had a go. At the last elections in 2011 the Tories got wiped out, and the Greens as the new largest party, formed a minority administration.
So what do the three parties offer us?
The Conservatives, Labour and Greens all offer to collect from the residents, whether willing or not, the same amount of Council Tax and to spend it on the Council’s 11,274 staff. They each claim that if elected they would in some unique way entice these civil servants to provide better services than they are doing already.
The cold reality is the city is run by the civil servants and largely for their own benefit. If residents refuse to pay the Council Tax based on their house value, and not their ability to pay, they are threatened with bailiffs, bankruptcy, and ultimately sent to prison.
And what does the money go on? Civil service salaries and councillor allowances for the most part. Each lucky councillor is set to pick up winnings of £50,000 payable over the next four years regardless of whether they attend council meetings, answer residents’ queries or do anything else. Welcome to the gravy train!
Each Councillor wins £50,000 on election!
Not one councillor, however personally rich, waived their allowances in the last four years. Other councillors took sabbaticals abroad, championed the Palestinians yet ignored the residents he’d sworn to serve, another who arrived at a by election with much funfare, only subsequently decided to chuck it in after just two years and seek richer pickings elsewhere. Two were in intermediate stages of senility at the time of the 2011 election, but still stayed on to collect their £50,000 of winnings.
Not one of them have ever paid back a penny in over claimed allowances. Does anybody attempt to keep track of the £700 million the Council spends every year? Or is it just a great big pot of cash that pours out of the sky? It must seem like that for councillors and staff alike.
But life is not so rosy for the victims of the Council Tax bailiffs. Theirs is one of constant fear of the ominous door knock and the rattle of the jailer’s keys. Eleven souls have been sentenced to imprisonment for not paying their council tax on time.
Herded into prison vans and driven away from loved ones, and with no doubt grim thoughts as they drive past the scaffold site where others in earlier times paid for daring to protest their masters’ greed.
Council bailiffs average pay: £80,000 a year
A freedom of information request revealed that Brighton and Hove City Council’s bailiffs’ department employ six sharing salaries totaling a staggering £481,000. What a wonderful racket if you can get it!
So nothing will change. The late Labour MP Tony Benn said nothing has really changed since medieval times. Us serfs still struggle under the yoke of back breaking taxation while our masters promise themselves they have never had it so good. How true!
If only one of the three parties offered us something different we would all have a straw to hold onto. The chance of something new to hope for.
Imagine a party offering to half the council tax and dismiss most of the council staff? After All their work is mostly just duplication of that done by their central government colleagues.
Many voluntary organisations work tirelessly for the good of others. In a decent community we should care for our city’s needy rather than paying civil servants to do it for us. We could create a loving and happy environment if only we could rid ourselves of the politicians’ greed.
Whilst there are some who are genuinely hardworking and have a heart of gold, these are held back by the actions of the majority. It is not the case of a few bad apples, alas most of the barrel is rotten to the core.
Until well after WWII councillors gave their time willingly for the good of their town and never received a penny.
They were decent people who set an example which all of us could look up to. And it is a standard to which we must ultimately return.
Until then the people must set up a committee of public safety staffed solely by council tax payers, and free from any political interference, to limit the size of the helpings taken by councillors and their council staff cronies.
We, the people must have hope that one day we will live once again in a happy prosperous society that takes civic pride in caring for others less fortunate, and we can again use our resources to help them rather than watch our city’s wealth being tipped away on the lavish living and foreign holidays enjoyed by our political ruling class.