Point of order

Tomorrow (Thursday 2 March) we meet to decide how much council tax you will pay next year.

This year’s budget setting process has been unusually protracted with two lengthy seminars where members have been invited to vote on their preferred level increase.

The result of second of these voting exercises, which shows 60% of members voting for a 10% increase, and another 30% for 7.5%, has made its way into the report for Thursday’s meeting.

Tellingly, the report does not include the result of the earlier ballot (emailed to members with the message: “Please do not share outside of the Council as these are Members’ provisional members views only.”) which showed that more than 50% of those who voted favoured an increase of 5% or less.

So there is an element of cherry picking when only evidence that supports the official case for a higher increase is published.

Not that we should take the result of these votes too seriously because turnout is low (less than 40% in the second case) as many of us refuse to participate on the grounds that seminars are closed sessions for the exchange of information and that voting should be reserved for open meetings where those who elected us can see which way we lean.

Unfortunately, these seminars have developed into events where those in power seek to persuade rather than inform – and all well away from the public gaze.

That allows members to make statements that they might not want to see printed in the papers.

For instance, at the second seminar a member suggested that we should impose a big increase (10% or more) at this early stage in the council’s life in the hope that the four years between now and the next election will give the voters time to forget.

That piece of advocacy – which I don’t expect to hear repeated at tomorrow’s open meeting – might account for the big increase in those voting for a 10% increase at that second seminar.

However, Old Grumpy has been analysing the figures and the following table deals with three scenarios: what actually happened during the previous five year period (increases of 12.5, 9.9. 5, 3.8, 5% in that order); the reverse order; and an average increase spread evenly over the five years.

What is interesting is that the Band D rate in year five is the same (£1249.35) whichever method is used.

However there is a huge difference in the aggregate amount of tax collected over the five year period with highest-increase-first raising £410 more per Band D property than the reverse order and £202 more than that from a consistent average increase.

And when this outcome of what is known as “front-end loading” is multiplied by the tax base (55,000 Band D equivalent properties) you find that, over the five year period, actual over reverse-order raises an additional £22.5 million, and actual over average £11.13 million.

So any increase we agree to on Thursday will be baked into the cake for all future years.

The council are keen to say that any increase will only amount to £1 per week, or somesuch.

What is missing from such statements is the word “forever”.

As an American politician once said: “A million here and a million there and before you know it you’re talking serious money”.