The financial woes of our county council have brought in to sharp focus the age old political quandary of whether people will pay more in tax in order to fund public services. In my short time in politics, I’ve found that people will often say that they’d be willing to but when elections come, low tax manifestos win more support.
Somerset County Council did the right thing: Whilst wages were stagnant and the financial crisis at its worst, council tax was frozen so that hardworking taxpayers could keep more of their cash. As necessary as that was however, during the same period demand for key council services like adult social care rocketed meaning the council was being asked to do more whilst asking taxpayers for less money.
At the same time, the Government in Westminster was grappling with the same challenge. We were running a huge deficit and our national debt was growing quickly. Indeed the interest on our national debt is now the third biggest payment the Government of the United Kingdom makes each year costing us more than the defence of our nation and the education of our young people. Government spending had to brought into balance and that meant some very difficult decisions which included cuts to the money received by councils from central government.
Alongside that is the utterly iniquitous funding formula designed by the last Labour Government which works massively to the advantage of cities. The Government has pledged to change this but frankly that hasn’t happened quickly enough and so it’s no surprise that it is rural county councils like Somerset that are struggling most with their finances.
I’ve spoken in Parliament many times about the funding challenges we face in Somerset and through my chairmanship of the Rural Fair Share Campaign secured a commitment to recalculate the funding formula. But none of that changes that there simply isn’t the money in Westminster or at County Hall to deliver everything that people want unless taxes go up. I’ll be asking Government for more but I fear we’ll be needing to ask you for more too.