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Are we ready to pay more tax – or are politicos about to anger the voters again

PUBLISHED: 06:13 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:50 25 January 2018

Is Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore having sleepless nights about the increase in council tax?  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Is Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore having sleepless nights about the increase in council tax? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

This is the season of council tax-setting – and this year it is starting to look very different across the country.

Suffolk County Council leader Colin Noble has been keen to listen to voters on taxation plans. But do they always tell politicians the truth? Picture: ARCHANTSuffolk County Council leader Colin Noble has been keen to listen to voters on taxation plans. But do they always tell politicians the truth? Picture: ARCHANT

In fact, it’s worth asking if the public attitude to council tax – and taxation in general for that matter – is changing. Or is the perceived change of attitude that some have detected merely an illusion that will disappear in the privacy of the ballot box?

For years councils have tried to freeze council tax. Suffolk County Council kept tax bills the same for many years until last April. But this year residents will see their bills go up by nearly 5%.

The county council is putting up its element of the bill (by far the largest single element of council tax) by 4.99% while districts and boroughs are likely to put up their council tax by almost 3%.

Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore is putting up his element of the bill by 6.8%. Parish and town councils will also be adding to the bill. All these figures mean that in Ipswich (where there is no parish element) the council tax bill will go up by 4.8%.

An irony about this is that the parts of the bill controlled by the traditionally low-tax Conservatives (county and police) are going up by almost 5% and 6.8% while the are element controlled by the traditional high-tax Labour Party (Ipswich Borough) is going up by just under 3%.

Now I know the actual figures are controlled by the government and county council leader Colin Noble and PCC Tim Passmore probably pray for forgiveness for putting up bills every night – but I bet Labour try to make political capital out of this during this year’s local elections in Ipswich!

The key point about the rise in the police element is that Mr Passmore put out an online survey to find out whether people would be prepared to pay more for their public safety after the government relaxed the strict spending limits.

This was not comprehensive – it was not scientific and people decided for themselves whether to take part. But two thirds said they would be prepared to pay more to ensure the police service is adequately funded.

There also seems to be a widespread acceptance that we need to pay more to provide adequate care for those who are old and frail or who live with disabilities. Increasingly the idea of paying more tax for this kind of service seems to be gaining acceptance.

And on the national stage the idea of paying extra tax to boost NHS funds is being discussed increasingly widely – even if Boris Johnson didn’t mention increasing tax when he talked about boosting health spending.

For decades, at least since 1979, the general consensus in this country has been that people want to pay less tax, especially income tax, and that services would have to rely on what money can be raised.

That is not the case in many other countries, particularly in Europe, where the notion of paying the state to ensure everyone has a decent level of public service seems more generally acceptable.

But are things changing? Do we want to pay more? And for there to be a real improvement in public services most employees would have to pay a bit more, not just the super-rich.

Many people feel we should pay more tax – and many more will tell pollsters that they think we should be prepared to pay more in tax.

However when they are in the polling booth at a general election, will they still feel the same way? In 1992 when Labour was romping ahead in the polls and promising to spend money on many services the Tories came up with the “Labour’s Double Whammy” poster saying how they would increase two key taxes.

The rest is history, so they say. Could history repeat itself if today’s Labour Party tries to make too many spending promises?

Coming back to the council tax bills. I don’t detect any great hostility to the idea of paying about 5% extra this year. But when most people are seeing their wages go up by considerably less than that (council workers are only getting 2% and others are facing a continuing wage freeze) it will be difficult for many.

And a continuing ratchetting up of taxes could cause problems for councils at some point – will more follow Ipswich’s lead and increase their property investment?

Those of us who were about in 2003 when council tax bills went up by 18% remember how toxic taxation can be – decisions on how much tax can be raised always have to be considered very carefully. Nothing is more likely to get voters into the polling booths on election day!

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