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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Guinea pigs

I am on my way to Blackpool for the Liberal Democrats Conference and using a very slow dial-up connection so blogging will be light for a bit. However, I could not help but notice this in today's Times.

There is already suspicion that Wales was used as a guinea pig for Council Tax re-banding. The decision by the Tony Blair to to postpone the revaluation of property bands in England, due in 2007, seems to confirm that this was in fact the case. It appears that ministers have been stung by the political backlash from revaluation in Wales last April, which led to 33 per cent of homes being put on a higher band and only 8 per cent on a lower band.

Liberal Democrats MP, Sarah Teather, got it about right when she said that “Council tax is in a desperate mess, bottling out of revaluation isn’t going to solve anything. By opting out of meaningful reform, the Government is letting down the millions of pensioners and low-paid workers who struggle month after month to pay their council tax bills.”

The Government's problem is that they cannot see beyond tinkering with a fundamentally unfair system. Although they seem prepared to sacrifice Wales on the altar of experimentation, the voters of Middle England have proved a much more precious commodity for them. However, even they will soon catch on to the fact that the existing system of local Government taxation is unsustainable and start to demand changes. Fortunately for Tony Blair, that is one problem he is able to leave to Gordon Brown to sort out.
Wasn't the Welsh council tax re-banding proposals supported in Wales by the then Lib-Lab coalition administration in the Welsh Assembly?

Wasn't it Mr German AM, the deputy leader of the Assembly at the time, who spoke in favour of the proposal in the assembly chamber?
The Welsh Liberal Democrats argued long and hard within the partnership government for the abolition of the Council Tax and its replacement with local income tax. However, the Westminster Government would not give us the powers to do it and we were overruled.

The problem with a property tax is that logically it needs regular revaluation to be effective. Thus we were left with no choice but to agree to this measure. However, the way that revaluation was done was markedly different to that which we signed up to whilst in Government and as a result we opposed it.
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