A couple of weeks ago, I had a disagreement on Twitter with Croydon's answer to Comical Ali, Stephen Downes who runs the Inside Croydon political attack site. I should have learned by now that there is no point arguing with someone who has no interest in facts but sometimes I just can't help myself...
I was making the point to someone else that Council Tax bills "doubled under Labour" but have "have fallen in real terms" (ie after taking account of inflation - £1 today is worth quite a bit less than it was in 2006/7 and a lot less than it was in 1994/5) since the Conservatives took control of the Council. Downes interjected raising the issue of councillors' allowances among other things. I replied that these too had gone up under Labour and had been cut by the Conservatives. Downes replied that "Council Tax and councillors' allowances have both been increased in Croydon under Conservatives". He then hilariously gave the game away as to his 'journalistic' methods by asking me to tell him how much Council Tax bills and councillors' allowances had changed each year since 2006 - if he didn't have this information to hand, on what was he basing his (false) claims?
I have given him a week and a half to go away and do what he should have done in the first place (find out the facts before publishing) in the naive hope that I might get an apology. None has been forthcoming. So here are the facts (I have adjusted all the figures below to 2013/14 prices using cumulative figures for inflation supplied by the House of Commons Library but in the interests of transparency I have supplied the raw data at the bottom).
The Council doesn't have figures for 1994/5, the year when Labour took control of the Council. The earliest year for which they have information is 1996/7, when the spending on allowances was £342,791 in today's prices. In 2006/7, the last Council budget that Labour set, the spending was £1,655,682 in today's prices. That's an increase of 383% during the period Labour were in power. And in 2012/13, the spending was £1,420,947 in today's prices. That's a cut of 14% during the period the Conservatives have been in power.
So I was right to say that Labour increased spending on councillors' allowances (I should have said "massively increased") and I was right to say that the Conservatives have reduced it (albeit not by as much as I would like) - and I could have added that they have reduced it not just in real terms but in cash terms too.
People reading this blog are probably most interested in the Council Tax bills they actually pay so I'll start with those but the argument was really about the record of Labour and Conservatives running Croydon Council so in the interests of fairness I'll then go on to strip out the element of Council Tax that goes to the Greater London Authority and just look at the bit that goes to Croydon Council.
In 1994/5 (the last Budget set by the previous Conservative Council), Council Tax for a Band D property (it doesn't really matter which band you look at - although the cash increases will be different, the percentage increase is the same for every band) was £796.30 in today's prices. In 2006/7 (the last Council budget that Labour set), it was £1,511.64 in today's prices. That's an increase of 90% during the period Labour were in power. And in 2013/14, it is £1,474.39. That's a cut of 2% during the period the Conservatives have been in power.
What about if you just look at the element of our Council Tax bills that goes to Croydon Council? In 1994/5 (the last Budget set by the previous Conservative Council), that was £566.61 for a Band D property in today's prices. In 2006/7 (the last Council budget that Labour set), it was £1,176.54 in today's prices. That's an increase of 108% during the period Labour were in power. And in 2013/14, it is £1,171.39. That's a cut of just under 0.5% during the period the Conservatives have been in power.
So I was right to say that Labour doubled Council Tax bills and I was right to say that the Conservatives have reduced them (albeit only by a small amount, but that is a greater achievement than it seems given that in the last few years the Council has had the grant it gets from the Government significantly reduced - as have all councils - as part of the Government's efforts to reduce the deficit).
There are two lessons to be drawn from this.
First, take anything you read on Inside Croydon with a healthy pinch of salt.
Second and more seriously, don't forget that the people in charge of the Labour Party in Croydon today were all in senior positions when Labour last ran the Council. They were the ones who doubled our Council Tax and massively increased allowances. Think about that when you decide how to vote next May.
Here are the raw figures if you are interested:
1996/7: £240,000 x 1.4282944 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £342,791
2006/7: £1,426,000 x 1.1610673 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £1,655,682
2012/13: £1,389,000 x 1.023 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £1,420,947
Headline Band D Council Tax bills
1994/5: £526.50 x 1.5124478 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £796.30
2006/7: £1,301.94 x 1.1610673 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £1,511.64
Croydon Council element of Band D Council Tax bills
1994/5: £374.63 x 1.5124478 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £566.61
2006/7: £1,013.33 x 1.1610673 to convert to 2013/14 prices = £1,176.54