When people moan about their council tax, the usual complaint goes something like “£1000 a year for emptying my fucking bins”, as if that is the only function the local authorities perform. Expect more of these comments with the annual warning that council tax is expected to rise sharply next year.
But I feel sorry for councils (and incidentally, no, I don’t work for one). They have to take responsibility for doing numerous jobs that need to be done, even though some people would rather they were not done at all (and which they certainly don’t want to pay for). That is a fairly thankless task. Take social services; many resent paying council tax for a service that sticks its nannying nose into other peoples’ business, and which helps people who can’t be bothered to help themselves. Why should the state assist authors of their own destruction such as gym-slip mums and their many squealing offspring when we don’t receive (or need) such help? If social services must exist then let it be a shoestring, skeleton sort of organisation, receiving just the minimum funding from local authority revenue. But then we hear of a horror story, such as the case of Victoria Climbie, and we suddenly expect social services to do anything and everything, to have limitless resources and to spare no effort in saving an innocent and deserving life.
And it seems to be getting worse. Every bright idea that central government comes up with appears to involve the local council doing the actual running of the scheme, and all without any extra funding. While power and decision making get more centralised, the responsibility for enacting these decisions is dumped at the door of local government. And so it goes on. Are the police too busy to respond to calls regarding noise nuisance? Well, rather than increase police resources let’s just move responsibility for envirionmental health onto the council. These new licensing laws could mean a lot of extra work for the magistrates’ courts to deal with; why not shift the duty onto the town hall mandarins? The examples are so numerous that I can’t remember them all now; phrases like “new legislation means that responsibility for enforcement now lies with the local authority” are issued so often that I barely notice.
Our council tax is paying for a lot more than just our bins being emptied, and it is having to pay for still more with each new central government decree; ironic, then, that increasingly the local council itself is being used as the dustbin for the country, taking on all the roles that no one else can be bothered with anymore.