District debates ring hollow

I found the early County Times online report of the ‘divisive’ Horsham District Council meeting debate on February 13 (subject: the district council tax freeze) most interesting.

Why? Well, there are clearly two sides to the argument. Either freeze it, take the incentive grant and put up/introduce some charges OR increase by the (average) £5 per property, forego the council tax freeze grant and minimise/avoid any other charge increases. Simple!

Sounds just like good material for a sound debate, with the (hopefully agreed) overall aim of balancing the books.

But just wind back to the Horsham Council meeting on December 19, 2012, where council members voted to introduce the green waste charge, increase car park fees and freeze council tax.

Why wasn’t the second option raised then? The £5 council tax increase facility had only been announced by the Government earlier that same day.

I read it on the internet before I went to observe the meeting. Why were members not briefed in the meeting about this new option which allowed an almost 3.7 per cent increase, without the need for a referendum (previously only two per cent was allowed)?

Surely that was a crucial piece of information, essential to a proper debate. If I had discovered it, why hadn’t the finance director and why hadn’t the meeting been fully informed?

Clunk! The penny dropped, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway as the real decisions had been taken days before, by a closed meeting of the political party which commands a massive majority.

Who am I to expect a true and transparent democratic debate in the council chamber with all the facts disclosed and available for scrutiny. How could I be so naïve and stupid!

Footnote: did any of the (so called) ‘debates’ make it clear that giving up the council tax freeze grant for 2013/14 will lose just two annual payments of £80k, ie a total of £160k, whereas introducing a green waste charge will incur an admin overhead cost of the same amount (£160k) over the first three years, but then £50k for every year thereafter?

Maybe the minutes will tell us if this was properly debated. I doubt it!


Cox Green, Rudgwick