Give councils fiscal flexibility to fund local priorities, says think-tank

25 Jun 18

Councils should have the flexibility to raise taxes to fund areas that are a priority for local people, the Localis think-tank has argued.

People are willing to pay more in council tax to fund local public services as long as they have a say where funds are spent, research for Localis, released today, found.

YouGov polling, carried out for the think-tank’s Monetising Goodwill report, revealed the top five areas where, nationally, the public would be happy to pay more. In order, there were: public health; fire; police; adult social care; and children’s social care.

There was also support for voluntary one-off levies to fund certain service areas, namely: helping older people live independently; support for local homeless people; improving disability access; repairing pot holes; reducing loneliness; and reducing anti-social behaviour.

However, the research also revealed some regional differences.

For examples, polling in the East Midlands revealed that 65% would prioritise voluntary levy spending to fix potholes in roads.

Whereas in the South East, 64% of respondents said they would be willing to pay extra to fund police services.

Report author, Localis head of research Jack Airey, said: “As the nation reaches a tipping point on austerity in local services, places should be provided the freedoms and platform to monetise that goodwill.”

Interim chief executive Jonathan Werran added: “Councils need greater fiscal flexibilities through the government either raising precept caps significantly or by outright abolishing laws for triggering council tax referendums. 

“But for their part residents deserve a right to choose by voting on spending packages funded by hikes in council tax charges, as well as a say in how extra funds raised by voluntary levies should be allocated to community groups delivering local services.”

Localis suggested that local prioritisation of public spending could be achieved by:

  • Providing residents with the opportunity to direct up to 20% of total revenue raised to specific services and for achieving certain outcomes
  • Include the voluntary option to pay higher funding directed to specific services and issues, on top of the core bill
  • Allowing residents the opportunity to vote on specific spending packages.

 

Richard Harries, director of the Power to Change Research Institute, observed that the rise of community businesses, where local people take on the running of libraries and swimming pools, showed change could be bottom up.

“Many of these organisations raise funds through innovative new ways such as crowdfunding or community share issues, which shows that when people are given a real stake in their community, they are often willing to contribute,” he said.

Paul Dossett, head of local government at Grant Thornton, said local people were “passionate” about the key issues in their areas.

He added: “We need to break down the centralised system of government funding and encourage the continued devolution of powers from Westminster to local areas.”

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