Pickles launches the Silly Season in style!

They do say that politicians and journalists consider August the silly season. Parliament is away and MPs and journos are on the beaches. That gives a great opportunity to fill pages that would otherwise be empty with nonsense.

My mate Eric has chosen to launch the silly season with a really stupid idea about council tax benefit. He believes that by cutting the Bill by 10% but giving councils discretion in how it will be spent he will achieve 2 objectives:

1.                  To save money; and

2.                  To encourage councils to get their economise moving so that they will need to pay out less.

The first is obviously true. Less money is less money. What nonsense, however, is displayed in the second of these and what ignorance about what motivates councillors? You see Eric we don’t need incentives like this to get us to try and deal with employment problems in our areas. We do it because we come from the communities that are most affected; because we care for our unemployed constituents; because we know that a good job leads to good health and good well being for all the family; because a good family with a few bob in their pocket will provide a better start in life for the kids in those families.

To suggest that we need an incentive to create jobs is an insult to the morality of councillors of all Parties who have struggled over the years to make their communities more viable and more wealthy.

Where Eric does have it right is his belief that localisation of decision-making will lead to positive effects. In any deprived community Benefits (of all types) are the biggest cash input but society as a whole gets so little out of that spend. If all benefits were to be localised we could save a fortune.

I would start with housing benefit. At present the Government wastes shed loads of money on buying crap accommodation from crap landlords. If we were able to decide the housing spend locally councils could commission the best landlords with good properties on a long-term basis. Some of those landlords would be public sector and some private sector. We could drive bad landlords out of business; reduce costs and provide a healthier environment for most tenants.

This would also increase investment in both public and private sector housing because of the certainty of the cash flow.

But why stop there? Give us responsibility for all benefits and we could really get value for money. Who knows best which people could do something for their benefit; which skive off totally or which need every penny? The local community knows these things and a way could be found through local funding mechanisms to make individual evaluations of working potential to allow someone to work for no hours; a few hours or not get any benefit at all. Local residents are more zealous about the use for public money that any flint hearted Tory Minister or plushly paid Inspector.

So you are doing a little of the right thing for entirely the wrong reasons and will get entirely the wrong outcomes. Come on Eric – before you pick up your binoculars to go twitching somewhere cold for your annual bout of excitement be more radical. Use your position in Government to call for all benefits to be localised not this half hearted, ill thought out twaddle that you are currently embarking on.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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One Response to Pickles launches the Silly Season in style!

  1. B.Gray says:

    Agree with a most of this but not localisation of who gets benefits. The result would be witch hunts and finger pointing and different criteria from area to area. The rules for receiving benefit should be simplified and universal; there should be support to help those who are fit for work to find suitable sustainable paid employment; once in work there should be a gradual withdrawal of benefits linked to the pay received and advice to help residents budget paying their monthly dues like rent and council tax which many will not have paid for years. It requires a clear helpful holistic approach. The baddies are relatively few and would be obvious. Ensuring good housing and steady adequate income is the bedrock for residents being independent….the cost to society when these fundamental needs are lacking far outweighs the cost of investing in resolving the problems. Sounds like pie-in-the-sky?? Nothing venture nothing gain…to succeed it would require a unified cross party and sustained action over many years and would exclude the over zealous well heeled who like to denegrate those who are less fortunate for whatever reasons and cut benefits to those who are in most need….Mr. Pickles needs to understand the problems holistically before making amendments to the process..

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