Regular correspondent on this blog, and our LibDem opponent in Haughton West next year Alan Macnab, had a grumpy letter published in yesterday's Echo about the Labour Group proposal that the DBC element of Couincil Tax be frozen for 2010/11.
Alan's letter is a classic of its type - full of half-truths and - let's face it, full-blown fibs - that chracterise so many LibDem utterances on most subjects. Let's look at Alan's letter in detail;
"It is indeed good news that Darlington Borough Council is proposing that Council Tax will not rise in 2011-11 - the first time a below-inflation rise has beenn levied since Labour came to power."
FIB!! In the first year of Darlington's existence as a unitary, Council Tax was actually reduced by 11.3%. My maths isn't what it should be, but that fact seems to be absent from his subsequent comparison between Darlington and other councils.
In reality, under Labour as a unitary authority, Council Tax in Darlington has risen by less than the average of all similar councils.
FACT. Darlington residents continue to benefit from paying the lowest total Council Tax in the North East.
"The Council also has a debt mountain of £80.8m, which will not be paid off until 2078-79, whilst its reserves are the absolute minimum it is allowed to hold."
WHOPPER!! The Council does not have a debt mountain. Local government financing is a complex subject, and it isn't easy to boil down the facts accurately into a blog (even less in a letter to the Echo). Here's my best stab at what's really the case...
The Council has a £143 million capital programme over the next 5 years. £117 million of that will come from Government grant. Another £10 million is supported borrowing, whereby revenue grant from the Government pays the financing costs.
DBC does invest in assets such as schools, highways, housing and regeneration. Like all councils, it borrows to fund some of these improvements, and most of the borrowing costs are paid for by Government grants.
Lets take a recent (and highly relevant) example. The Council has been sucessful in winning a bid for £57 million to rebuild 3 secondary schools in the Borough. As part of the deal, the Council will contribute £1.8 million. It is hoped that this will be funded through capital receipts, but if these can't be realised, then the money will be borrowed.
Is Alan's position really that £57 million of much needed expenditure on our schools be turned away from want of £1.8 million borrowing? As he signs himself the LibDem candidate for Haughton West, we shall have to assume that he is repeating the official party line on this matter.
I'm not sure this will be terribly popular in Hurworth, where the school is to be modernised, represented for the moment, of course, by 2 LibDem councillors.
In addition, the council's reserves are not "at an absolute minimum". Every year, the Council takes professional advice on the minimum reserves which should be kept. The figure is set at £6 million, and the Council currently has £8 million in reserve. Independent auditors (PWC on behalf of the Audit Commission) recently concluded that DBC's financial management is "robust" and "sound".
As a Labour Councillor, I'm proud of the services we deliver across the Borough, and the fact that we achieve good value for money in their provision. Residents' satisfaction in the recent survy stood at 79% - higher than the average for similar areas.
Whilst Alan and the LibDems try and fashion scare stories and myths about council financing, I'll be continuing to play my part striving for excellence in council services at an affordable cost for the people of the Borough.