For people to become angry enough and energised enough to campaign or take a stand against something usually takes a realisation that their money is being taken from them wrongly, or that an injustice is being committed against them and others.
So one wonders what might happen when more people realise money is being taken from them wrongly, and they are being treated unjustly because the law is not protecting them from unlawful behaviour, and in both cases the perpetrator is the same entity – Local Government.
Recently this blog argued that to take back power we need to change focus. In that post we explained that local politics is the least scrutinised area of public life, but it is also the most vulnerable to people power. We also covered the root of the problem:
Control should and supposedly does reside with elected local Councillors. However it is the Council Officers who pull the strings. They write the reports, they formulate the recommendations and all too often they seek to neuter any elected members who challenge them. All too often the Council Officers help the Councillors to feather their nests, thus keeping them compliant and unwilling to rock the boat.
And it is this that needs to be the focus of our attention – the restoration of democratic control, transparency and accountability to stop the Officer tail wagging the Councillor dog. It can be done, for it is far easier to create a non-party political local campaign, build up support in a ward or wards, and then run independent candidates who can win local elections than it is to get a non aligned candidate into Parliament. Candidates who will not play the game, and who when elected will wrest control back from the bureaucrats and put it back in the hands of those who are directly accountable to the electorate, are a nightmare scenario for the powers that be.
In response some people argued that the idea is flawed because Councils are small fry due to the percentage of income they raise themselves. However it is all relative. Too much of what Councils do raise without mandate or consent is wholly unjustified. Tackling that behaviour and getting visible results can help spawn a genuine grassroots movement and establish a powerbase that sees people power take root and grow and spread. And the scope for action is huge.
All that is needed is for awareness to be raised of a genuine and unacceptable state of affairs and good people might finally stand up against the racketeering going on in our Town Halls. And the evidence of that unacceptable state of affairs is now rising to the surface to be shared and cited across the country.
As readers of EU Referendum will have seen in recent weeks, a challenge to the unlawful behaviour of Bailiffs operating to enforce a debt to a local authority – and enforce illegal charges even after the debt has been paid – has led to Richard North lifting the hood to see what else is going on beneath the surface. What he has already found is the evidence that has been completely hidden away from most people, or only partially uncovered by some. And there is yet more to be uncovered.
Now Christopher Booker is on the case, carrying the message to his huge audience via his column in the Telegraph. And this has been spurred by Richard North showing how Councils that are supposed to exist to provide public services to local communities have transformed themselves into businesses that seek to extract ever more money from us in the form of “sales, fees, charges” and “other income”.
This is not about serving the interests of residents in our cities and boroughs. This is about maximising the amount of money taken from them to be spent on lavish pension schemes, salaries that outstrip comparable responsibility in the private sector, the creation of non-jobs such as a ‘Street Football Coordinator’, ‘Cheerleading Development Officer’ and ‘Bouncy Castle Attendant’; and schemes that derive yet more revenue – such as the formation of businesses to provide services to Councils instead of getting best value by having private sector firms competing with each other to deliver the best deal.
Then there is the plain and simple theft of residents’ money carried out by local authorities because there is insufficient oversight by feckless and incompetent Councillors who have their noses buried in the trough:
This is the Summonses and Liability Orders scam, where under the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992, councils are only permitted to impose “costs reasonably incurred” for the issuing of these orders, which must also under the law be charged for separately.
Booker picks up on one council admitting that the cost of issuing a Reminder Notice, which precedes them, can be as little as £1.22. Yet, as we know, Bradford council charges £80 for issuing the two further documents, which, using the same computerised process, involve no more work than sending out the Reminder.
Many other councils, quite illegally, impose a combined charge of up to £100 for issuing both documents – even though, if the debtor pays in full on receiving the Summons, the Liability Order is not necessary.
Achieving political control over the spending of local authorities is not only possible, it is necessary. Look at the figures below (taken from the Dept of Communities and Local Government’s Local Government Financial Statistics England 2011) and you realise the extent of the control that should be in the hands of ordinary people, but is in fact in the hands of people who view us as an unwitting source of income that exists to fund their plans and wishes, not members of the public to be respected and served:
People often say it is a scandal that Council Tax continues to rise when we get ever less for our money. But this table lays bare the reality that Council Tax is only little more than 50% of what local authorities take from our hard pressed pockets and the pockets of small local businesses.
When the 30-40% of people who voted in local elections cast their ballot, did their Council candidate ever try to account for this extortion or pledge to tackle it? Did they for one moment promise to do anything about reducing the sum we taxpayers are forced to pay under threat of fine, theft by bailiff, bankruptcy or imprisonment? If not, why on earth vote for them to feather their own nest and facilitate this multi-billion pound scam? This has been allowed to happen in Town Halls up and down the country under the party political system. All of them share the blame and it is time to radically change things.
This sets the scene.
We will shortly build on this to outline how we can start to campaign to raise awareness and then how we can start to challenge it and bring about real change through people power.