Something along those lines, anyway. As if to offset the first balmy day of spring, my Council tax bill for 2009-10 arrived yesterday. I have no objection to paying my fair share – I am after all paying, if not my own wages, the wages of people like me. Nonetheless, a number of things recently have made me think in more detail about Council tax and local spending.
Firstly, another series of news articles about how “20% of council tax goes on pensions”. Of course since only 25% of Council spending is raised locally in many areas, this means “5% of council spending goes on pensions”, a much less exciting headline, and one which doesn’t lead to the slightly odd conclusion that “210% of council tax goes on wages”.
I seem to keep talking about the pension scheme, I should add that I don’t think it’s likely to prove affordable in the long term in its current form, and the sums required to make it so would not be acceptable to taxpayers. That might change if the stock market outperforms and long-term interest rates go up, but that seems unlikely.
The other interesting thing was that Paddy Tipping, a Nottinghamshire MP, asked the Local Government Minister how much Council Tax was in each of England’s shire counties measured per head, rather than on the notional Band D comparison. This is, of course, important – it is both a more accurate measure of what people pay, and a fairer comparison of what the Council is acquiring in terms of spending power.
It seems plain that there are more Band D+ houses in, say, Surrey, and more Band C- houses in, say, Durham. Some areas may also have more people per house, I would anticipate a 4-bed in Camden is more likely to be home to 3 or 4 sharers than a 4-bed in Calderdale. Anyway, turns out that this is very true of Nottinghamshire. It has the highest Band D Council tax of any English county, yet is below average (21st of 34) in the actual amount charged per resident.
What better excuse could there be for me to experiment with adding pictures to WordPress? Two important caveats to what follows; firstly, Counties are of course only one tier of shire local government, so these amounts do not include the council tax levied by Districts. In addition, they aren’t all directly comparable, as some counties charge for their fire authority, whereas some fire authorities charge separately. That said, I tried taking the fire authorities out, and the sums didn’t change much.
Here is a chart of the Band D Council tax charged by each English County (purple line) and the tax per resident (blue line). There’s some correlation, but hardly a very obvious one.
Here it is as a scatter graph. Try drawing your own trendline. Not that easy, is it?
I thought it might be possible to shed some light on why this is going on if I added in the “Aggregate External Finance” (Excel file of this here) – essentially the money provided to each Council from central government, and added this on a per capita basis to the amount raised in Council tax. This should tell us whether there is a correlation between being a big taxer and being a big spender, or whether tax levels are largely just something that is inversely correlated to central government funding levels. So here’s council tax per capita along the bottom, and council spend(ish) per capita up the side.
Well, spending certainly isn’t identical for every authority, but if there’s a correlation between those two axes, I can’t find it.
Finally, I thought perhaps I was being unfair, since if an area has lower house prices, it may also have lower wages. I therefore went to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, and worked out what average council tax per capita would be as a percentage of the median local full-time wage. Then I realised I had done it by location of employer (Table 7) not employee (Table 8), and started again, but never mind that, here is the correct version, comparing council tax as a percentage of wages, with total spend per capita on council services.
Some sort of correlation. I guess this could also be adjusted since with lower wages a lower amount of spending might buy more services, but given that many council jobs are on a national payscale, and not all spending is wages, I couldn’t think of a useful way of doing this.
I don’t have a witty and incisive conclusion, I just thought it was interesting.
Let me know if you can think of any more good graphs that could be made with the data to hand. If you have the relevant data for London boroughs or something then send it across and I’ll have a bash, although that would be complicated a bit by the much higher degree of in and out commuting in London Boroughs compared to shire counties (for obvious reasons!).
Now, about that staff discount…