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Basic tax rate rules

In your elections coverage you refer to Chris Whales’ Smith Institute essay, in which he suggests that councils could set the basic rate of income tax within their area (‘Fears voiced over election backlash’, LGC, 8 May).

Your readers should, however, note that Mr Whales identifies two important pre-conditions to this change.

The non-contentious proposal is that the government invests in improving public sector skills. However, the second identified pre-condition is the replacement of the present two-tier framework with larger single-tier authorities.

As Sir Michael Lyons found when he was initially invited to develop thinking on finance the purpose, power and structure of local government has to be addressed in parallel.

Perhaps even more importantly, big ideas usually mean big turbulence. Given Margaret Thatcher’s experience with the poll tax and prime minister Gordon Brown’s 10p tax rate trouble, politicians are understandably wary of the volume of noise that can be raised by and on behalf of the dispossessed.

Anyone for local income tax and abolition of two tier government in the next couple of years?

Dave Wilcox

Chair, Local Government Information Unit

Landfill cost too high

Your article on landfill stated that in the last financial year, councils paid£407m in landfill tax, following a rebate of£291m (‘Waste reduction insufficient’, LGC, 15 May). In fact, government has never clarified how much landfill tax revenue has been returned to councils, despite requests by the Local Government Association.

We therefore cannot say that£291m was returned in 2007-08.

The government is increasing landfill tax rates, but it appears there is no longer a commitment to return the extra money.

Despite increasing recycling rates, we estimate that councils will still pay more in landfill tax, in fact£1.5bn over three years. This money will be swallowed up in government coffers, at the expense of helping councils to take further action to develop sustainable waste solutions.

This puts increasing strain on council tax and does nothing to support the investment the country needs in more effective waste management.

Paul Bettison (Con)

Chair, environment board, Local Government Association

Open debate on pay

With regards to Jan Parkinson’s comments at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association conference, the analysis is fine, but the conclusion is debatable (‘Dismay over pay alignment’, LGC, 8 May).

The logical long-term outcome to the notion of a ‘public sector worker’ is harmonisation. Recalling the trials and tribulations of single status, this might be an aspiration too far. However, putting our heads in the sand is not ideal either.

The issue gets further complicated as local government develops a mixed economy.

Another speaker reminded us that the private sector was gearing up to run shared services across organisations, on top of the already extensive outsourcings that have been in play for many years. The public sector worker could therefore be in the private sector.

The ability to easily transport pensions would be good, but with pay and other conditions it starts to become more complicated.

Ms Parkinson, from her Local Government Employers helicopter, is right in stimulating the debate. Local authorities should join her and have a closer look at the art of the possible. What can be done?

This needs to go alongside and should not hold up thoughts about modernising pay and conditions to suit changing working practices and lifestyles.

A new direction should be considered, so let’s not shoot the messenger.

Alan Warner

Director of people and property Hertfordshire CC

MAA in early stages

I am unclear as to the source of LGC’s information with regards to the South Essex multi-area agreement (MAA) partnership, but there are certain points which should be noted (‘Worklessness MAA agreed in North Staffs’, LGC, 24 April).

Partners are at the early stages of exploring of the benefits of an MAA the south Essex. If it is decided to proceed in addition to the three councils mentioned in the article (Staffordshire CC, Newcastle-under-Lyme BC and Staffordshire Moorlands DC), the MAA will encompass the East of England Development Agency and Basildon and Rochford DCs and Castle Point BC.

We were therefore surprised to see reference to a final draft scheduled for agreement in July. While there is agreement in principle to an MAA, a full business case is still required to establish the added value it would bring. The next steps towards this will be decided at partnership meetings later in May. If the MAA proceeds the earliest date for sign off would be April 2009.

Chris Hammond

Project manager, Government Office for the East of England

Stamp of approval

We applaud Lord Hanningfield’s push for one-stop-shops as reported last week (‘Post Office role predicted’, LGC, 15 May).

Warwickshire CC is championing one-stop-shops with its district partners. So far we have seven established with three in the pipeline and five others being considered.

We too have joined with the Post Office and have signed an agreement to relocate Warwick Post Office to our new one-stop-shop at our Shire Hall HQ.

The space has been transformed from a very dated interior to one fit for our customers in the 21st Century and complying with the Disability Discrimination Act requirements so that all our customers can access our joint services.

Alan Farnell (Con)

Leader, Warwickshire CC

Sir Simon support

It is such a shame that Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour group leader of Westminster City Council, has allowed his long-term local political conflict with Westminster leader Sir Simon Milton (Con) to cloud what is actually a great appointment for the whole of local government in London (Letters, LGC 15 May).

Many councillors, of all parties, cheered loudly when London mayor Boris Johnson appointed Sir Simon as his planning guru.

Sir Simon has demonstrated, as chairman of the Local Government Association and previously when chairing its improvement board, a knack of being able to build consensus and represent the whole of local government fairly.

I served as Sir Simon’s deputy chair and saw at first hand his willingness to consult and take on board points from all sides.

Edward Lord (Lib Dem)

Chair, improvement board, Local Government Association and planning committee member, City of London Corporation

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