Recent weeks have seen the merry-go-round in central government seemingly come to a halt, resulting in the recent Autumn Statement which – bar any significant change in ‘leadership’ – will determine how much worse off we will all be over the next few years.
Local government for Purbeck since 2019 means Dorset Council and we have the unenviable position in that the council tax bill we’ll all receive sometime in early March has historically been among the very highest in England.
There is debate as to where in the league table we stand, but all reasonable calculations put us certainly in the top five and usually in the top two or three.
Council tax is subject to a referendum limit on any increase and that is currently 2 per cent. Recent years have seen increases larger than that, as central government has both relaxed the limit (to 3 per cent) and allowed the imposition of an ‘Adult Social Care Precept’ (ASCP). This latter element was originally seen as one-off ‘help’ but now appears to have silently morphed into a permanent levy, shifting social care funding to residents.
In all of this, it should be remembered council tax is cumulative so the next year builds on whatever the base was the previous year – think of it as analogous to compound interest on a loan you never pay off but increases all the time, or the credit card from hell.
The Autumn Statement announced local councils can increase council tax by 3 per cent and for those that have care responsibilities (and that includes Dorset Council), add another 2 per cent for the ASCP. So 5 per cent in total. But it is widely acknowledged council tax has never been the solution to meeting the long-term pressures facing essential public services.
This is particularly the case for high-demand national services like adult social care, child protection and homelessness prevention. It also raises different amounts of money in different parts of the country unrelated to need and falls short of the sustainable long-term funding needed. It is not the long-term solution to the financial challenges facing local government, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis, and council tax increases add an extra financial burden on already struggling households.
So, what does this mean for Dorset Council residents? It means Conservative-run Dorset Council will raise your council tax by, if not the maximum, very close to it – 4.99 per cent would be my guess.
They will argue they have no choice (and they would almost certainly raise it more if permitted). What they won’t mention is that central funding to councils has been cut to the bone during the past 12 years of Tory rule and that Dorset is always the poor relation when it comes to ‘winning’ levelling up funding, despite having a Conservative-led Unitary council and a full complement of Tory MPs who fail to adequately represent our needs. The Conservatives have failed to deliver and change is needed.
On behalf of South Dorset Lib Dems