'Kutter Ken' Maddock gave David Huxtable the unenviable task of replying to my earlier email and, possibly unsurprisingly, the answers were not terribly useful or informative. Whilst this sort of response is frustrating, its not really a surprise given the culture of local/regional/national politics. In truth, given my experience here in Somerton, its a step forward to get any response from a local politician, so I guess I should be grateful.
The only useful piece of information provided to me by Huxtable is a graphic which seems to show a) the historic level of debt carried by County and b) the estimated debt that the current administration proposes till March 2013 and its that last part that interests me. The information that Huxtable provided did not contain any hard numbers so I have had to estimate the figures to recreate the graphic below (indicating 100's of £millions), but I'm sure that I'm not too far off. (click or double click the image to see a larger version)
To offer some comparison, I have included a couple of 'control curves' which show what the debt level at March '95 (£112m) would be were it adjusted for inflation by 2.5% per annum (black line) and 5.0% (green line). Whilst the current debt of approximately £355m is a bit scary, when you place it in comparison with the inflation adjusted figures from March '95, you see that the level of increase hasn't been as dramatic as the current administration would like to have you believe.
What is immediately apparent to me is that, given the dire warnings about the 'unsustainability' of County's current debt level, and in the face of the draconian cuts proposed by Kutter Ken and his crew, the current administration are actually going to maintain the current level of debt for another three years. I had expected to see these debt levels start to fall under the current regime but it would seem not. And this begs the question that if debt levels are not going to fall, then where is the money going? It also begs the question 'If the current level of debt is unsustainable, why is the current administration going to sustain it for another 3 years?'.
The only explanation that I can see is that national government is less concerned about levels of local expenditure than it is about reducing debt at national level. As recession reduces tax receipts (VAT etc) national government looks to tax mechanisms that are 'recession proof' and Council Tax does not vary with economic activity. It therefore becomes an obvious target with government taking a bigger slice of Council Tax revenue and Council Tax payers paying the price. My only question is why is the administration at County Hall not fighting harder for the taxpayers and voters of Somerset? After all, they are meant to represent 'us' not 'national government'.
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly