Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Brown's Budget Bad for Bury

There are plenty more significant voices than me talking about the Budget today in terms of its effect on the country as a whole, so I won’t spend much time on it myself. Suffice to say that I fully support Sir Ming Campbell’s excellent analysis that the “income tax cut” unveiled by Mr Brown is actually quite the reverse for those hard-working people earning the lowest wages in the country. For those on the minimum wage the decision to abolish the 10p starting rate is a disaster, immediately doubling the tax liability for those crucial first few thousand pounds of income. And all this from a Labour Chancellor – once again penalising the working poor and those on middle incomes, and disguising it in spin.

But what does the budget mean to Prestwich and Bury? Well, Mr Brown has failed to grasp the opportunity presented to him by the Lyons Review on local government finance, the findings of which are published this week. It recommends creating two new Council Tax bands (one at the very top and one at the very bottom) and re-valuing homes to make the bands more up to date. Whilst the Review is a step towards a fairer local tax system, it doesn’t go far enough in terms of relating a tax system to the taxpayer’s ability to pay it. And because Mr Brown has done nothing on this issue, the criminal under-funding of our local Councils will continue. As a result, Bury Council, like all the others, will be forced to ask their residents for more through the unfair Council Tax. The people of Bury will pay more. The people of Prestwich will pay more. The Lib Dems propose much fairer local taxation, whereas Labour stubbornly stick to the unfair Council Tax.

Mr Brown’s investment in the NHS is welcome, as always. But as a resident of Prestwich myself, I wonder what the impact will be on local services. Will we get to maintain maternity provision in Bury? Will local GPs throughout the Borough provide an acceptable out-of-hours service again? Will the crisis in NHS dentistry in the Borough get any better? Or will the money go to fund yet more centrally-driven targets at the expense of services really improving for Prestwich people? The Lib Dems champion true localism in the NHS, giving power to Doctors and Nurses, not performance managers.

Has Mr Brown made Prestwich residents’ lives any easier in terms of transport? No, I don’t think so. Petrol duty has gone up, but there’s been no mention of providing affordable alternatives to the car. The situation for Prestwich people is particularly bad now that the Metrolink is closing for months, so where is Mr Brown's solution here? And whilst road tax for “gas-guzzlers” has gone up a little bit, what incentive is it for local people to use greener cars when a £60,000 BMW X5 attracts VED of just £300? It costs less to service it! The Lib Dems welcome the abolition of VED for the greenest cars, but would also have provided much more for public transport improvements for local people as well.

Will Mr Brown’s budget make the people of Bury feel safer in their homes and feel more confident in the justice system? Again, I don’t think so. The pressure on our courts will not be relieved with the tiny increase in provision for the services. Local people’s access to justice will be lowered with such a small settlement. Again, Labour have let local people down, whereas the Lib Dems Five Steps to a Safer Britain would do the opposite for Prestwich – giving more power to local people to make troublesome areas safer, putting more police on the beat, and ensuring honesty in the sentencing of offenders. Tonight I received a very distressing call from a pensioner widow scared to leave her own home at night. Where is Mr Brown's solution to this lady's problems? Our's are clear.

The people of Prestwich have been let down by Labour on Education before – Prestwich Arts College was to close until the Save Our Schools campaign, championed by the Lib Dems, secured the school’s future. But again education in Prestwich will suffer after the budget. Where is the cash to reduce class sizes for our youngest pupils? Where is money for expert teachers in science and maths in our secondary schools? And where is the money for employing foreign language teachers in our primary schools? The Lib Dems would target money into these areas. Only last week the government grabbed the headlines when announcing foreign language teaching in schools. But who's going to pay? It looks like you and me, through the Council Tax!

So when you read the Budget analysis over the next couple of days, take in the national picture of course. But remember the likely effect on Prestwich, carried out by our own Labour Council. More unfair Council Tax, but less services. The Lib Dems would do better for local people.


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